Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bolder will be better

A bolder rail transit proposal, says this May 25, 2008 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial.
For starters, how about a fixed-rail route connecting the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to the County Grounds in Wauwatosa and all points in between, including downtown and the newly remodeled Amtrak station, Marquette University, the Potawatomi Casino and Miller Park?

The last local rail rapid transit, last streetcar line, and first major local freeway were likewise in this east-west route. In principle, this makes more sense than Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's Downtown Circulator or local philanthropist and retired businessman Michael Cudahy's downtown and east side stubs. In practice, east-west line proposals have, figuratively, gone nowhere. As Janice M. Eisen pointed out in the June 3, 2006 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,
The best opportunity to put in a new transit system, if we were going to do so, has already been lost. A rail system with its own dedicated right-of-way could have been put up as part of the Marquette Interchange reconstruction project, using some of the federal money set aside for the Waukesha-Milwaukee transportation corridor.

That's been one hang-up, "its own dedicated right-of-way". That means acquiring additional property, which consistently draws too much local opposition. In desperation, rail advocates resort to advocating street running, that is, streetcars or trams rather than light rail or rail rapid transit.
[County Executive Scott] Walker says express buses or BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] could do the same thing more cheaply. He's right about the economics; a 2001 study by the Government Accountability Office concluded that bus rapid transit systems offer greater flexibility than light rail and "can have lower capital costs than light rail systems yet can often provide similar performance."

Since these new buses would run in dedicated lanes on existing streets, they minimize the capital investment. While rail advocates claim rail transit draws more new riders, they don't show it draws enough to justify the added capital expense. So besides the routing problem, there's this money problem.
Barrett ... says the real problem facing the county transit system is that Walker opposes a county sales tax increase or even a regional sales tax dedicated to transit. Denver finances its metro transit system with a 1% seven-county transit sales tax.

The county's financial woes are largely a product of the pension scandal. The money's not here. The money's in Joe's pension...right next to you. And in the Kennedy pension, and Mrs. Macklin's pension, and a hundred others. A so-called transit tax is actually a pension bail-out.


  1. "The money's not here. The money's in Joe's pension...right next to you. And in the Kennedy pension, and Mrs. Macklin's pension, and a hundred others."

    An ode to "It's a Wonderful Life"?

  2. It could be remade now, but with Mr. Potter crusading against subprime loans and suburban sprawl.