Business and labor both need regional transit

    Some would think at a period of deep recession that this is not the time to push for a Regional Transit Authority (RTA). The truth is, we can’t afford to wait. A vibrant transit network is a fundamental part of a successful and sustainable economy.

    Racine has an unemployment rate of 17 percent. Just like the unemployed in Milwaukee and Kenosha, they are our families, neighbors, people we go to church with. They are taxpayers and people who purchase goods and services, which make our local economy grow.

    We believe that this is why the push to create an RTA has garnered the broadest coalition for any purpose that Racine and the region has ever seen. What makes this coalition unique? Labor groups and businesses, corporations, environmental groups and faith-based organizations, merchants and restaurants not only agree but are working together to support and advance a Regional Transit Authority.

    We believe that this is our best, and possibly only, immediate opportunity to ignite a sustaining spark that will get people to work and bring our economy back to life. We recognize that an RTA would garner millions of federal dollars to invest in transit that will link us to the global economy of Chicago, and provide access to more than a million jobs along the Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Chicago corridor.

    The return on this investment is real and it is substantial, to the tune of billions of dollars in economic benefits over the next two decades. The obvious is the infrastructure of the rail itself; more importantly is the development that will follow along the corridor. Our corporations will be more successful because they are able to pull from a larger pool of workers with special skills and make their companies more attractive to new hires.

    Our unemployed will be able to travel the corridor between Milwaukee and Chicago to seek opportunities beyond our community. Everyone in Racine County will benefit by more tourism and sales as Racine’s businesses and cultural venues are opened up to more than 2 million people near the train stations along the corridor.

    And the reverse is true. Citizens of Racine will be able travel to our surrounding cities for larger cultural, educational and entertainment venues.

    We are at a pivotal point where we must decide if we want to participate in the global economy or be left behind as other regions invest in their transportation system and gather up the jobs, businesses, talent, development, private investment and the billions of dollars in federal transit funds.

    Through the extraordinary efforts of our legislators, several plans have been created that would keep an RTA and a modern transit network moving forward in the state budget. Although none of the plans are perfect, with the realities of the state budget and resulting political landscape, we must move forward with a plan we can build on.

    A modern transit network should include enhanced buses and KRM commuter rail in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha. We would hope that our Legislature recognizes that dedicated funding and integrated buses and trains are needed in the entire corridor to keep people linked to job and business opportunities inside and outside our transit system boundaries. If we do nothing, transit services in Racine, Milwaukee and Kenosha will be cut substantially, harming workers and employers alike.

    The current Assembly plan creates the foundation for a truly regional RTA. Under the current Senate plan, Racine and Kenosha buses are left out, and the KRM Commuter Rail project will remain on the shelf for lack of an acceptable regional transit plan that the Federal Transit Administration calls for.

    Almost every senator or assembly person in our Capital has run their campaign on a "jobs" platform. Now, the RTA and the KRM commuter rail have given them the chance to walk the walk.

    As the budget and the RTA proposal proceeds, we know that our legislators are working hard for us. And, as the saying goes, "The devil is in the details." The coalitions have come together and spoken and now the imagination and hard decisions must come from our state representatives. We will continue to prod and support our Legislature.

    The time is now to make a truly regional RTA a reality so we can get to work creating jobs, sparking our economy to life and building a cleaner more prosperous future. We believe that the RTA, and the KRM Commuter Rail would be a win for jobs, for families and neighborhoods, small businesses and major corporations, the environment and for our future. Which, in the end, makes it a win for Wisconsin.

     

    This blog was co-written by Jim Eastman, president of Merchants Moving and Storage Inc., and Jeff Van Koningsveld, president of IBEW Local 430 and co-chair of the Racine County Labor Coalition. They are the co-chairs of the Racine Transit Task Force. For more information about the Racine Transit Task Force, contact Kerry Thomas at Transit NOW at (262) 246-6151.

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