Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009 Offers Rare Opportunity To Change State Transportation Priorities

It's the silver lining in an otherwise historically devastating economy:

With an understanding that we've been wasting our money on expensive fuel, overbuilt highways and oversized vehicles - - to say nothing of the overwhelming soot, smog and greenhouse gases the entire OPEC-dependent system produces - - there is no more logical time than right now to begin to shift public investments away from highway expansion to rail connections and infrastructure maintenance.

Leading economists tell us that the current dip in gasoline prices is temporary, that prices will again escalate.

Millions embraced transit at the height of the gas price spike. People clamored for better buses and more trains - - both in short supply in Milwaukee and across the state.

The incoming Obama administration plans to send the cities and states stimulus funding, and what better way to use it in Wisconsin than to repair our aging infrastructure - - from bridges to pothole-dimpled streets - - and to finally move towards a major statewide rail system combining High Speed regional links with local commuter and light rail initiatives.

Rail construction provides jobs; rail operation and maintenance also creates long-term employment, and more sustainable and logical development patterns will follow rail station and line construction.

The alternative will be wasting stimulus money on what is not needed: new lanes on roads that will see less traffic when inevitable fuel price spikes send more cars to driveways or scrap yards.

The day after the Governor's Global Warming Task Force announced its goals, the state Department of Transportation said full steam ahead on committing $1.9 billion to rebuild I-94 between Milwaukee and Illinois, including 70 new lane miles in the corridor.

Not a dime in that plan for rail anywhere in or near the I-94 corridor.

The stimulus funding offers Gov. Doyle a chance to fix these shortcoming: community leaders and everyday commuters and taxpayers will thank him if he uses that money to fix what is broken, and make real progress on what the state desperately needs: 21st century rail for a new American age of fuel scarcity, climate mindfulness and fiscal stress.

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