It’s now or never for commuter rail

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:41 pm

    The stars are aligning – but not for long. The time is now to move on the KRM (Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee) Commuter Rail.
    National experts see something about a future with KRM Commuter Rail that we may not see. Jon Roberts is a nationally recognized business and economic development expert, and the consultant for the Racine County Strategic Economic Development Plan. He is managing director for TIP Strategies Inc. in Austin, Texas.
    His unique viewpoints on both the national and local level provide a valuable insight: "For KRM Commuter Rail, the national perspective is critical. The Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee corridor has a rare and dynamic convergence of major selling points. You’ve got a truly rare combination of:  commuter rail accessibility, a prime lakefront, excellent land availability and redevelopment potential, in a dense economic corridor connected to Chicago, with increasing desirability for transit-oriented design and urban living. It’s a golden opportunity."Here are just a few indicators of where our opportunities lay:

    • The Wall Street Journal reported that the 2005 median sales price for condos topped the price of single-family homes for the first time.
    • Demand for residential near transit is expected to grow from 6 million to 16 million households by 2030, according to Reconnecting America.
    • AARP found that 71 percent of older households want to be in walking distance of transit.

    The Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago reports that the site selection criteria for new economy companies are: connectivity, 85 percent; proximity to transit, 77 percent; and proximity to clients, 50 percent.
    Our marketplace is changing: changing demographics and consumer preferences; changing business needs for talent attraction and retention, connectivity and productivity; and a changing real estate market. Combine these major market shifts with a powerful tool (KRM) that can leverage economic advantage from each of these changes, and the result is a heap of opportunity to beef up the bottom lines of businesses in the region.
    It is becoming crystal clear that KRM commuter rail is not something to be ignored or treated lightly. And, with critical project milestones and deadlines approaching soon, the question becomes – can we pull it together in time?
    Recently, two studies were released that help to quantify the substantial economic benefits that KRM is expected to bring to businesses in the region. One study was prepared for the current KRM Commuter Link study, and the other prepared by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Institute for Survey and Policy Research.
    The economic impact study findings are eye-opening.They show that KRM commuter rail is expected to:

    • Support and assist in bringing about planned development near KRM stations of up to 21,100 residential units, and 12.13 million square feet of retail and office space
    • Spur development within 1 mile of the KRM stations resulting in an increase in property valuation of $7.8 billion, and an increase in retail sales of $750 million. The expanded tax base can support improved urban services, schools, and amenities that can make our entire region more attractive.
    • Increase tourism in the region. Economic impact from just a 1% increase in tourism would generate annually: $20 million in expenditures, $12 million in  wages, 500 jobs, and $3 million in state and local government revenue.
    • Provide direct access to nearly 2 million people currently living within 3 miles of the stations between Milwaukee and Chicago. Most of the stations have shuttles and local transit connections in place or in planning.
    • Support and retain businesses by providing critically needed high quality, reliable access to an expansive and diverse pool of talent, and a broad array of educational, research, and training facilities.
    • Expand job growth and local economic impacts, including long-term development around stations with up to 71,000 jobs; KRM construction, with over 3,160 jobs and $425 million impact on area economy; and KRM operations and maintenance, 126 jobs, and $24 million annual impact on economy.
    • Reduce transportation and parking costs; decreasing business expenses, and increasing household discretionary income.
    • Leverage over $118 million in federal capital investment in southeastern Wisconsin. Over $100 million of that is available only for "new fixed guideway" transit development, notably trains. These are federal funds that will get used – if not by us, then by some other state.

    It’s well known that today regions, and not cities, compete for everything from people, clients, businesses and talent to technology, research, entertainment venues and retail outlets. KRM will create a dynamic bi-state link joining metro Milwaukee together, and physically linking us to the mega metro Chicago economy, amenities and resources.
    The KRM link will help southeastern Wisconsin build a vibrant, globally competitive economic region. KRM will connect us to one of the nation’s biggest economies, Chicago – and a premier commuter rail network, the Chicago Metra system.
    Across the United States, rail transit is seen as essential urban economic infrastructure. Of the top 50 cities in nation, just a few do not have or are not developing rail transit. Without modern regional rail connections, we are at a distinct disadvantage in attracting and retaining people, businesses, jobs, and talent.
    The time is now. To meet federal deadlines and make the best attempt at competing for the federal dollars needed to move the KRM project forward, consensus must be reached now on a local funding source. The funding source also needs to be enabled by the state legislature and endorsed by the KRM cities and counties by June 2007. If the deadline is missed, the entire KRM project is in serious risk of losing funding and its very viability.
    It’s make or break. Now or never. Go, or no go … well, you get the picture. It’s time to get to work. Make it a priority to let your local and state elected officials know what you think about the KRM commuter rail project. It’s important to submit your comments about KRM commuter rail for the record at www.krmonline.org, or e-mail to krmonline@sewrpc.org. Let the Regional Transit Authority know as well at www.sewisrta.org.
    Yes,  the stars are aligning (momentarily) for southeastern Wisconsin. The question remains: Do we have what it takes to make the bold steps needed now to move ahead on KRM and leverage bottom line returns for businesses in southeastern Wisconsin?

    Rosemary Potter is executive director of Transit Now, a nonprofit organization that educates the community on transportation-related issues in southeastern Wisconsin. The Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) Commuter Rail is a potential 33-mile train that will connect the Milwaukee-Chicago lakeside communities; with nine stops planned in Wisconsin, and connecting to 24 communities and Chicago on the Chicago Metra North Line in Illinois. For more information, visit www.transitnow.org, and the KRM Commuter Link project study Web site at www.krmonline.org.

     

     

     

     

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