RTA votes to stop rental car fee to pay for planning KRM

From an article by Joe Potente in the Kenosha News:

A fee on rental car transactions in southeastern Wisconsin is going away — at least for a while.

The Southeastern Regional Transit Authority voted Friday not to reinstate a $2 fee that had been charged to help pay for planning of the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail proposal.

That was after the new board voted narrowly to appoint Kenosha County designee Karl Ostby as its chairman.

Created by the Legislature as part of the 2009-11 state budget, the authority is enabled to levy up to $18 per rental transaction to support the local costs of KRM’s development.

Debate over fee

Maintaining the $2 fee for now was discussed, but a majority of the board favored holding off on any fee until a KRM grant plan is finalized, Antaramian said in a phone interview Friday. Antaramian said nobody on the board has shown an interest in levying the full $18.

“I think certain members of the board felt that there wasn’t a need until we actually saw a proposal,” said Antaramian, who supported continuing the $2 charge.

However, Ostby said the question of the fee is likely to arise again next month, after the authority has a clearer idea of KRM’s costs.

Regional Transit Authority stuck in transit funding tangle

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

The Milwaukee area’s newest government body started work this week with the realization that it doesn’t have the power to accomplish its only mission.

In essence, the members of the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority were told that the state had put them in an impossible position, and only the state can get them out of it.

The 2009-’11 state budget created the new RTA to oversee the planned KRM Commuter Link rail line. It did not give the new body any power to fund or coordinate local bus systems.

Yet Federal Transit Administration officials have said they won’t approve the $207.5 million commuter railroad until the financial problems of the Milwaukee County Transit System and its Racine and Kenosha counterparts are solved, Ken Yunker, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, told RTA members.

Therefore, the RTA and the KRM will be doomed to fail without additional help from Madison, said Milwaukee County Supervisor Michael Mayo, an RTA member.

Lawmakers are working with Gov. Jim Doyle to draft new legislation that would create more transit authorities with the power to levy various taxes to support the bus systems, said Dan Kanninen, Doyle’s legislative director. Kanninen said the bill could be introduced by the end of the year, for action when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

This isn’t what Doyle wanted, Kanninen stressed. In his recommended budget, the governor proposed a single body that would oversee both the KRM and public buses in Milwaukee, Kenosha and eastern Racine counties, funded by a 0.5% sales tax.

But legislators shot down that idea in the face of heavy sales tax opposition from Racine County.

DOT undecided between La Crosse, Eau Claire high-speed rail routes

From an article by Steve Cahalan in the La Crosse Tribune:

The final version of a Wisconsin Department of Transportation long-range plan still has alternate routes through Eau Claire and La Crosse for high-speed passenger rail service between Tomah and the Twin Cities.

The DOT soon will study which route might be best.

The agency said Wednesday it has formally adopted its new Connections 2030 long-range plan, available online at www.wiconnections2030.gov.

Local business and government leaders argued at an Aug. 26 public hearing on the plan in La Crosse that studies years ago already had determined Amtrak’s Empire Builder route is the most ideal in the region for planned high-speed passenger rail service between Chicago and St. Paul. That route goes through Tomah and La Crosse, as well as Winona and Red Wing in Minnesota.

Backers of that route announced last week they have formed the Empire Builder High Speed Rail Coalition.

Coalition members remain convinced that is the best route, said the group’s coordinator, James Hill, who also is executive director of the La Crosse Area Development Corp.

Rallying support for rail service

From an article by Joe Potente in the Kenosha News:

MILWAUKEE — A summit on regional transit sounded something like a pep rally for public transportation by the time it wrapped up Friday.

A panel of transit backers from Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee didn’t agree entirely on the viability of commuter rail in the region, but they were united on one major point: Now is the time to pass legislation to create a true regional transit authority with a dedicated sales tax.

And a national expert on transit and urban sustainability said that authority must be taken seriously in order for anything to get done.

Panelist Eric Isbister was blunt. Isbister said a lack of public transit near his Mequon-based business shuts his company off from many car-less members of an enormous workforce a few miles south in Milwaukee.

“We’ve got to stop romancing this issue,” said Isbister, chief executive officer of General MetalWorks Corp., a Mequon-based metal fabrication firm. “We’ve got to get results.”

Said Deborah Blanks, chief executive officer of the Milwaukee Social Development Commission: “It’s about access and opportunity. It’s a connector to prosperity.”

The summit, at the Italian Conference Center, was presented by the Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin, the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the city of Milwaukee.

High-speed rail should go through La Crosse

From an editorial in The Capital Times:

Wisconsin is closer than ever to gaining the high-speed rail service that is needed to put this state on the regional and national transportation map.

In fact, the likelihood that a Chicago-Twin Cities route will make stops across the state is now so real that communities are fighting to be on it.

It was long thought that the service would go from Chicago to Milwaukee to Madison to La Crosse and then across the Mississippi River and up toward Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The “phase one” connector between Madison and Milwaukee is still on target — despite the efforts of the anti-rail naysayers to try to slow things down. All that is needed is for the project to get a piece of $8 billion in stimulus money that is being made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — a prospect that seems entirely possible now that Midwestern governors are uniting to push for the plan.

But there is suddenly a debate about whether the service will go through La Crosse or Eau Claire.

A final version of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Connections 2030 plan, which identifies the design, construction and operation of the Madison-Twin Cities corridor, now suggests that the choice of which Wisconsin city will get the service is open to question.

The WisDOT plan refers to the La Crosse and Eau Claire routes as “project alternatives … to be determined during environmental and engineering studies.”

That introduces an uncertainty to the process, which is to some extent understandable.

The return of real rail service to Wisconsin is an exciting prospect, especially as gas prices spike. And cities have every right to compete for the service.

But our sense is that Bob Fisher, a member of the Wisconsin Association of Rail Passengers, is right when he says that La Crosse’s claim is well settled. The city already has Amtrak service. It’s rail infrastructure is in place and there’s strong local support for the project.