Governor, State Lawmakers Propose Commuter Rail for SE Wisconsin

Sat January 30, 2010 - Midwest Edition
Dinesh Ramde - ASSOCIATED PRESS



SOUTH MILWAUKEE, Wis. (AP) Gov. Jim Doyle and five state lawmakers are proposing legislation that could help remove obstacles for a commuter-rail service linking Milwaukee, Kenosha and Racine in the southeastern corner of the state.

The draft measure would create regional transit authorities in Milwaukee County and cities including Kenosha and Racine. Each transit authority would seek funding from county and other governments in its territory.

The legislation also would create a Southeastern Regional Transit Authority, which would improve bus service within each county and likely oversee the other transit agencies. Improving bus service is important because if counties can show they have well-run bus services, they stand a better chance of getting federal money for the proposed commuter rail, said Doyle’s spokesman, Adam Collins. “The feds need to see the bus system is strong before they’re going to invest in trains,” he said.

Supporters said investing in public transportation could spur economic recovery by reducing residents’ transportation costs and allowing companies to recruit workers from a wider area. Bucyrus International of Milwaukee and SC Johnson of Racine company executives joined Doyle at the news conference.

“We’re looking to add 500 jobs,” said Tim Sullivan, the chief executive of Bucyrus, which makes heavy-duty mining equipment. “Our main concern is, how do we get people here?”

Rep. Robin Vos, (R-Racine), criticized the proposal as “unsustainable” and predicted it would result in tax increases imposed without referendums.

The transit authority in Milwaukee County would be funded by a 0.5 percent sales tax in Milwaukee, which voters approved as part of a larger referendum in September. But that referendum did not specify that the money be used exclusively for transportation projects, a point that rankled Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.

“Governor Doyle’s plan is a slap in the face to the Milwaukee County taxpayers,” he said in a statement. “Our residents should have a right to vote on a binding referendum like anyone else.”

Doyle countered the money would address one of the region’s most pressing needs, and voters knew the funds would help support public transportation.

Transit authorities elsewhere could be funded by vehicle-registration fees or property taxes, but they could only impose a sales tax if voters agree in a referendum, Doyle said.

A 33-mi. commuter rail line between Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee has been estimated to cost more than $200 million. Plans call for 14 weekday trains in each direction from Milwaukee to Kenosha, with some trains going as far south as Waukegan, Ill.