Milwaukee County and Kenosha get funds for express bus routes

From an article by Larry Sandler in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee County will get $19.1 million in federal funds to pay for three new express bus routes, the state Department of Transportation and County Executive Chris Abele announced Thursday.

Those new routes will partly replace existing local service, as part of Abele’s plan to stave off deep cuts that had been recommended in other routes. Regional planners, state staffers and local advisory committees had backed the plan before it received final approval from state Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.

Two routes will be funded by $12.7 million of the $15 million previously allocated to the now-defunct KRM Commuter Link rail plan. The remaining $2.3 million will go to Kenosha Transit for new buses.

One route will run from Bayshore Town Center to Mitchell International Airport, by way of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and downtown; the other will run from UWM to the Waukesha County line, mainly on Capitol Drive.

Milwaukee streetcar debate heats up

From an article by Sean Ryan in the Business Journal:

City of Milwaukee streetcar supporters, including Mayor Tom Barrett, on Wednesday rallied against the proposal to give Milwaukee County buses up to $54.9 million in federal grants dedicated to the streetcar.

Milwaukee Alds. Joe Dudzik and Bob Donovan and County Board Supervisor Mark Borkowski on Wednesday called for an April referendum on the project and requested U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore sponsor federal legislation to give county buses the federal money that was earmarked for the streetcar. Donovan listed his concerns about the project, including the potentially high cost of moving utilities for the streetcar tracks, operating costs and potential ridership.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Donovan, Dudzik and Borkowski have a history of being hostile toward transit and said many of their arguments have been made before. He said the three did not participate in a push made earlier this year to urge the state to restore money for the county transit system that was cut in the state budget.

“Where were these three individuals?” Barrett said. “They were nowhere, because they’ve never had an interest in improving transit in this community.”

The federal grant for the 2.1-mile downtown streetcar is the city’s share of $91.5 million in transit money Congress approved in 1991 for projects in Milwaukee County. A Congressional budget bill approved in 2009 earmarked $54.9 million for the city and $36.6 million for the county. As approved by Congress, the money can only be spent on capital projects, not on system operations.

Report says county transit cuts would make jobs inaccessible

From an article on BizTimesDaily:

If proposed cuts are made to the Milwaukee County Transit System, a minimum of 13,553 jobs in locations currently served by MCTS would become inaccessible for people without cars, according to a new report by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Center for Economic Development.

“Included in the proposed budget for 2012 are a series of route eliminations and other service reductions that, if implemented, would reduce both fixed route services and hours of operation by roughly 12 percent. It has become a familiar story for MCTS, which has been forced to reduce service, raise fares, or both every year since 2001 to close chronic budget gaps. These cuts have made it increasingly difficult for transit-dependent workers and job seekers to access employment opportunities in the Milwaukee metro area, contributing to Milwaukee’s poverty rate of 27 percent, fourth highest in the nation among cities with 250,000 or more residents,” the report stated.

The county’s transit crisis is made worse by Gov. Scott Walker’s budget, which imposes a 10-percent across-the-board cut in the state’s operating assistance for public transit systems, the report stated.

“Due to a provision in the budget that limits increases in the property tax levy for counties and municipalities, there is little the County can do to offset the loss of state funding with additional local revenue sources,” the report stated.

Southeastern Wisconsin leaders ask state to restore mass transit funding

From an article in BizTimes Daily:

A coalition of southeastern Wisconsin civic, educational and business leaders is asking the state Legislature to restore state funding for mass transit in the region.

The coalition sent a letter to state senators and Assembly members Monday, calling on legislators to refrain from making the cuts outlined in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill. The letter said mass transit is vital to the economic future of southeastern Wisconsin economy.

The letter was co-signed by Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman; Cudahy Mayor Anthony Day; St. Francis Mayor Al Richards; South Milwaukee Mayor Tom Zepecki; Racine Mayor John Dickert; Oak Creek Mayor Richard Bolander; Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele; Greater Milwaukee Committee President Julia Taylor; Racine Area Chamber of Commerce President Michael Kobylka; South Suburban Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Wesener; KenoshaArea Business Alliance President Todd Battle; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Michael Lovell; University of Wisconsin-Parkside Chancellor Deborah Ford; Milwaukee Downtown Executive Director Beth Nicols; Devin Sutherland of Downtown Racine Corp. BID #1; Mike Fabishak of Associated General Contractors Greater Milwaukee; and Tom Rave of The Gateway to Milwaukee.

The letter stated:
“In the current economy, creating, maintaining, and connecting people to private sector jobs is a top priority. The state budget proposal to drastically reduce state funding for already severely strained transit systems in SE Wisconsin would threaten economic growth by making it harder or impossible for workers to get to jobs and discourage employers from locating or expanding in Wisconsin. . . .

Boneheaded move on transit

From an editorial in The Journal Times, Racine:

In a lamentable vote last week, state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, led the state’s Joint Finance Committee to vote 12-4 along party lines to do away with recently authorized regional transit authorities in southeastern Wisconsin and four other areas of the state.

It is a boneheaded and short-sighted maneuver that could well ring the death knell for commuter rail linking Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Unlike the high-speed rail proposed for Milwaukee to Madison by former Democratic Gov. James Doyle, KRM would connect a corridor of highly populated areas in the southeastern corner of the state. It would give businesses access to willing workers through the region, provide those workers with the means to get to jobs, give residents a car-free alternative to taking in the sights, recreational and entertainment offerings of Chicago and Milwaukee — and it would lessen the reliance on the Interstate highway system.

It was perhaps prophetic that the Vos-led vote last week came as gasoline pump prices roared well past $4 per gallon.

For good measure, the Joint Finance Committee also threw state funding for bike and pedestrian paths under the bus as well, eliminating $5 million in spending over the next two years.

Vos said the transit authorities were unpopular, unelected “abomominations” as he guided the vote for disbandonment.

Unlike during the Gov. Tommy Thompson era, in recent years Republicans have taken a Goldilocks and the Three Bears approach toward mass transit, complaining that plans — whatever plans — were too hot, too cold, too this, too that. The unelected “abomination” criticism from Vos that transit authorities would spend tax money, even though their boards were not elected, feeds into the recent rise in anti-taxing frenzy — including an advisory referendum in Racine County on “new taxes” for transit or rail that was defeated by a large margin.

In fact, Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget would have preserved transit authorities, but required a binding referendum before an authority could levy a tax.

That’s a more reasoned approach . . .