Wanting Water, Blocking Transit, Insulting Bus Riders: Waukesha's Self-Defeating Approach To Milwaukee
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee professor Marc Levine explains in an absolutely essential Journal Sentinel Crossroads op-ed that the Milwaukee regional economy will go from bad to worse as gas prices spike without immediate modern transit investments - - including light rail - - like those now that have been made or are being planned in nearly every other major city in America.
Note the editorial position a day earlier in The Freeman, Waukesha's daily paper, that endorsed:
A) The permanent erasure of light rail from regional transportation consideration.
B) The deliberate absence of Waukesha County's participation in a regional transit authority because it mostly helped Milwaukee.
C) The value in an op-ed it ran on June 18th by Mark Belling, the conservative AM radio talk show host, who opined that bus riders were "fringe" people.
In other words: 'Milwaukee: Up Yours,' or as Freeman columnist Pete Kennedy said about a year ago in that paper, "Milwaukee Sucks."
The key policy paragraphs from The Freeman editorial (full text here):
"First of all, while we are fine with regional partnerships and cooperation, we remain firmly against Waukesha County being part of a regional transit authority.
"It doesn’t make sense and is not in the interest of Waukesha County residents is to establish a regional transit authority that has the power to raise your taxes and will have aims that mostly benefit Milwaukee.
"In regard to mass transit, all efforts that affect Waukesha County should be based on automobiles and buses.
"The idea of light rail should be derailed for good. It just isn’t practical.
"The expense and inflexibility of such a system are deal breakers. Instead the focus should be on buses.
"We could potentially see a future where someone opts to go downtown Milwaukee via a hybrid doubledecker bus instead of a car.
"But if that doesn’t happen and no one uses the buses, at least there won’t be all kinds of expensive light rail tracks going unused."
This is the same disregard-and-weaken approach that Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission imposed on Milwaukee when the agency recommended widening freeways through land, tax base, homes and businesses in Milwaukee - - regardless of the majority votes in objections by the Milwaukee County Board and Common Council.
And the Common Council has extended its anti-freeway widening with a more recent vote against adding lanes from Milwaukee to the Illinois line, but in favor of adding the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line, instead.
WisDOT brushed aside that proposal, knowing it had in hand the original SEWRPC freeway plan, for which it paid SEWRPC $1 million to craft.
SEWRPC will soon recommend what Waukesha interests have been seeking for years as the crown jewel for future county development - - diversions of Lake Michigan water through Milwaukee's water works to new subdivisions on formerly rural land.
This will continue to accelerate the movement of capital and jobs from Milwaukee to areas not served by the very modern regional transit that Levine defines as crucial for the region's success.
Waukesha's parsing of the language of regionalism, (we're for regional cooperation even when we're not), its cherry-picking among regional initiatives to support (water, yes; transit, no), and its embrace of Belling keeps sending a negative message to Milwaukee.
This will only encourage Milwaukee to think twice before agreeing to transfer city resources like water, or a contribution to SEWRPC's operating budget ($400,000 this year, but without a city vote on the agency board, as I have pointed out) to the very suburban areas and decision-makers that have so little regard for the city.
Waukesha leaders (that business conference sponsored last week in Waukesha where toll roads for Wisconsin got a big sloppy wet kiss) should really begin to think through the ramifications of their positions on regional water/development/transportation issues.
Do they understand that dump-on-Milwaukee rhetoric, and policy directions that block the city's development will inevitably encourage Milwaukee to look elsewhere for supportive partners?
Such as the more urbanized Racine and Kenosha counties, and to Chicago, where there are certainly larger numbers of "fringe" people.