Saturday, March 14, 2009

Deal Will Launch Downtown Milwaukee Streetcars; I Want A Ticket To Ride

The surprise news Friday morning that the feds had split the remaining transit funds earmarked 17 years ago for Milwaukee transit on a 60-40/City-County formula means downtown will get a starter rail system.

That is a welcome development: most major US and foreign cities have rail transit of some kind to blend with bus and auto routes. Visitors and businesses relocating expect to find rail in a real city, and people moving in and around the routes will love it.

Without trains, Milwaukee was behind the times, and the longer that County Executive Scott Walker obstructed a settlement involving the funding, the less valuable became the funding and the farther behind Milwaukee fell.

Walker is upset he was cut out of the deal by Congressional Democrats and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, but that is Walker's fault entirely for refusing to accept Barrett's repeated offers of a 50-50 split.

Walker turned down a compromise. It was an unreasonable, politically-motivated, spiteful, anti-city position.

And the result: he looks appropriately weak and properly ignored; his unit of government gets millions less, though the public still gets 100% of the funding's value.

Sounds good, fair and balanced to me.

And you know what: Despite his fulminations, Walker doesn't really care. He's being campaigning against accepting federal stimulus funding for weeks, so he should actually be celebrating that he gets a lesser share of that filthy federal lucre.

My prognostication:

It's within the realm of possibility that Milwaukee can get a shovel in the ground to launch the system sometime next year. Stimulus dollars, and perhaps other revenues through a Regional Transit Authority, state funding (there's always plenty for highways), fare collections and tie-ins with businesses, museums, conventions, and other venues can bring dollars and leverage into the system, and onto expansion.

Save me a seat on the initial ride. And one for former Mayor John Norquist, too.

He can have Walker's.


Anonymous said...

Yes, this is very welcome news... We could be 5 years away from the KRM, High Speed Rail, a starter streetcar system, and yes even new express buses.

Anonymous said...

At long last, these federal dollars will be put to use. What a long strange trip it's been. One question: do you like the proposed downtown streetcar loop? When I take transit I typically want to go somewhere, not just get spun around in a never ending loop. I love the idea of fixed rail, but I question the merits of a "loop." While tourists typically find security in looped transit routes, Milwaukee is not - despite its best efforts - a major tourist destination. Using a fixed rail "hub and spoke" model to link Milwaukee's employment nodes and economic hub's (Tosa Research Park, UWM, Downtown, Airport, etc.) would facilitate greater labor mobility in Milwaukee county and result in increased economic development. I understand that the loop is just the start of a much larger system, which is fine....but, it just seems like it's not a very well conceived "first step." Thanks and keep up the good work.