Better mass transit will bring economic benefits to Wisconsin

    Although southeastern Wisconsin currently has the only Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in the state of Wisconsin, elected leaders, business owners and community partners across the state are taking notice of the need for expanded mass transit and the economic development potential it holds.

    Gov. Jim Doyle should be applauded for promoting the creation of RTAs in the biennial budget, and Legislators support this measure as an important way to generate both short- and long-term economic development in our state.

    Metropolitan areas across the nation have already recognized regional economic development as the key to a successful future. While our current system is bound by municipal lines, the three-county region of Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha should be credited for embracing regionalism as part of a united effort to make smart improvements, strengthening communities within this region and opening the door for regional transit authorities to be established throughout the state. As our state deals with a struggling economy and looks for opportunities to build infrastructure investments and create jobs, our leaders should unite in supporting transit infrastructure investments and the creation of regional transit systems throughout our state.

    Southeastern Wisconsin may be furthest along the proverbial tack in this regard.  Recently, the Southeastern Wisconsin RTA recommended dedicated funding for its local transit systems and for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail system, which would create a commuter rail link from Milwaukee to Chicago. The KRM is expected to drive an economic and cultural revitalization in this region that will ripple throughout the state and help create a regional model for other communities to follow. 

    The proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail line will create opportunities for additional infrastructure projects by driving economic growth, creating new jobs and linking a new population to the amenities, educational opportunities and cultural offerings throughout the state. Public transit such as the KRM encourages growth and urban development, resulting in more efficient mobility, public infrastructure and services.

    Commuter rail will also provide the highest level of reliability, significantly reducing highway traffic congestion and vehicle generated air pollutant emissions in proportion to its potential to attract greater transit ridership, longer trips by transit and new transit trips.  As Wisconsin’s largest city, a strong Milwaukee region will benefit the rest of the state.

    Statewide support for the regional transit and transit-oriented development opportunities created in the state budget is critical to build upon the foundation set by the efforts currently taking place in southeastern Wisconsin and establish a strong transit infrastructure throughout the state. For example, it was recently announced that Madison and the surrounding area would play host to major cycling and other sporting events should Chicago be awarded the 2016 Olympic games. Having the regional governance structures in place to build transit infrastructure to take advantage of these types of opportunities to attract business and economic development is critical. It goes without saying the statewide economy would be greatly impacted through the increased jobs and revenue opportunities.

    Increased transit is crucial to our economic future and demand for it will grow as gas prices fluctuate. Wisconsin as a whole will benefit from integration with the Chicago and northeastern Illinois market, and should work to create a statewide network of regional transit systems and enhanced transit infrastructure so we are poised to take advantage of economic growth and job opportunities.


    Karl Ostby is chairman of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transportation Authority (RTA).

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