Saturday, March 20, 2010

Scott Walker Is No Friend of Rail In Milwaukee

I remember working for Mayor John Norquist when there was a plan on the table to build an electric, guided bus system in Milwaukee.

Businessman and philanthropist Michael Cudahy was the main driver of the proposal, and he even flew a private planeload of people (I was not among them) to France to see a guided bus line - - which is not a train on a fixed set of rails) in operation.

The Bombardier corporation had built the line in France and was considering using Milwaukee as a platform in the US to demonstrate that it could be workable here. Bombardier officials from its Canadian arm were in Milwaukee more than once to make presentations, scout the city, etc.

Super Steel was mentioned as a possible contractor for the cars. The entire plan had a nice symmetry to it and Milwaukee could have been home to something new and productive in the US if the plan had gotten more traction.

I remember hearing Walker on the Sykes show one morning opposing the plan, and calling it just another form of light rail, which it was not.

But talk radio was served.

Cudahy could not bring Walker around on the guided bus. It was not built. Walker did not single-handedly kill it, but his opposition was part of the reason it died.

Walker could have supported the plan as a boon to Milwaukee and its workforce, and to corporations and suppliers for many components..

But he did not.

Here is another example of the distance Walker put between himself and the rail issue.

I attended a meeting with Norquist about commuter rail with all six regional elected leaders from here to the Illinois border.

In attendance were the Mayors of Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha, along with their County Executive counterparts.

I remember that the meeting was held in the office of the Racine County Executive, and was very cordial.

All agreed to support the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train plan, the KRM - - but no one, if asked, was allowed to say that Walker was at the meeting.

This was not surprising.

Through the years that Walker and Norquists' terms overlapped, word was always coming back from people working on transit - - other than buses - - that you always needed to be careful not to paint Walker into a corner as even remotely pro-rail because he'd come out swinging to mollify his talk radio supporters.

So when the Journal Sentinel called to report on the executives' KRM meeting, and the question was about attendance and who supported or said what, and spefically about Walker - - I paused, tried to figure out how to respond, and said you'll have to call Walker's office about that.


My point is that Walker does not see urban or high-speed rail (if he's for Amtrak, well, fine, and who knows where he is on the KRM?) as vehicles to move people through congested areas, or stimulate investment along the corridors or at stations, or to employ people or offer transportation choices here or in a large regional economy.

Hence his long fight against the Milwaukee downtown streetcar - - a fight that ultimately cost the County $10 million in federal funds for buses that Walker likes.

To Walker and talk radio, trains are political vehicles only, and the faux outrage that Walker ginned up over Super Steel not getting the Talgo high-speed train vehicle assembly contract is pure politics.

And in the context of the guided bus that never was - - laughable.

It's no different than being against the stimulus plan, and then taking the money.

You're either on board or you're not.

1 comment:

Dave Reid said...

Thanks Jim. Very good point:)