Sunday, June 29, 2008

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.


Anonymous said...

I have got a suggestion for a possible deal between Waukesha and Milwaukee (probably someone has proposed this elsewhere?): how about we trade water for funding support for Milwaukee transit, i.e., the transit would not have to include Waukesha. You scratch my back ...

Also, I hope this blog's author will respond to Paul G. Hayes' piece on SEWRPAC in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He makes some good points. But I bet you were more interested in better representation than in completely doing away with a regional planning commission, right?

James Rowen said...

I will get to Paul's piece later today or tomorrow.

In my original piece I said that Milwaukee would do well to remove itself from SEWRPC and reconstitute itself as a one-city or county RPC to work with SEWRPC.

That has been interpreted as destroying SEWRPC, which is not accurate. It would change SEWRPC, but I suspect the other counties would remain in the organization and rearrange its financing.

The City of Milwaukee is on record expecting water sales outside the Great Lakes basin to made to communities that have affordable housing and other assets.

Anything can be written into a water sale contract. Getting an agreement is another thing.

Anonymous said...

Paul Hayes has a $60,000 contract with SEWRPC to write its history. That potential conflict should be kept in mind in evaluating his column.

in any case, yes, there's a need for reasonable representation of low income and minority communities on SEWRPC. which doesn't exist now and has never existed. Thus, Hayes' rational that nothing is SEWRPC's fault is pretty circular - if there were more fair representation, the plans that were created would likely have been significantly different.

And, for all the constant repeating that plans are only advisory - the transportation plans are NOT advisory. A highway CANNOT be built if it isn't included in the plan. So had a fairly constituted planning entity declined to put, say, bigger highways, into the regional plan, then bigger highways COULD NOT, by law, have been built. Which would, of course, have led to different land use patterns, housing patterns, etc. That's a big piece of this, that is routinely ignored.

James Rowen said...

Paul's point, I believe, was that SEWRPC has been writing transit recommendations for years.

My point was that there were no transit recommendations in the freeway expansion plan - - and that is why WisDOT is moving forward with all that highway reconstruction along with $750 million for 120 miles of new lanes - - without having recommended to WisDOT that it include transit in that plan.

So the KRM commuter line is still on the drawing boards, and light rail, or a starter system, is dead.

James Rowen said...

Pls see a new post about Paul Hayes' op-ed, and it includes a link to his piece: