Mass transit is an investment worth making

    Over many years, a lot of time and effort has been spent on mass transit in various parts of southeastern Wisconsin. Despite different ideas and approaches, little change has occurred.

    However, there is a long list of people in southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois in businesses, economic development, governments, social agencies, education, labor and community interests who agree that mass transit is needed in. In fact, it is fast becoming a critical issue for the economy of southeastern Wisconsin.

    Milwaukee is already suffering from the shrinking of the Milwaukee County Transit System, which will be in a severe financial crisis in two years. A public policy research report issued in October by UW-M’s Center for Economic Development stated that MCTS and the Waukesha Metro Transit System combined have reduced bus route miles by nearly 20 percent from 2001 through 2007, resulting in at least 40,000 jobs becoming inaccessible by public transit, with only 55 percent of employers now being accessible within walking distance of a transit stop. With current trends, this is forecast to drop to 45 percent by 2010.

    Here’s an eye-opening story. The Gateway To Milwaukee is focused on economic development around the Airport, having recognized that this area is the principal welcoming and transportation hub of metropolitan Milwaukee. One of our vendors has a new business idea and is seeking capital funding of several million dollars. Potential investors from the west coast liked the idea and did their research.

    They concluded that they would fund this start-up potentially if it were in Madison or preferably in Chicago, but not in Milwaukee.

    This new business could need up to 60 IT and creative design young professionals in less than 120 days. The investors’ concern was that Milwaukee might not attract such professionals quickly. But by opening a location in the suburbs of Chicago near a station accessible by mass transit, they were confident of a successful startup.

    Thus, these investors with capital to start a business did not want to invest in Milwaukee. We lost the kind of opportunity our regional leaders are seeking because another city has mass public transit and we don’t. Whether or not you agree with their analysis and conclusion, their perception became reality and we cannot ignore it.

    Numerous other anecdotes have been discussed and reported. There are job openings and people interested in working, but transportation is an issue. People in northern Illinois want to come to the Airport and downtown Milwaukee by train, but options are limited. Couples in Delafield work in Milwaukee and Madison, but driving back and forth is expensive and time consuming. Car prices and their operating expenses are high. Students need to get to different campuses and jobs. More and more cars are causing parking and air quality challenges.

    Greater Milwaukee is one of the only metropolitan areas of its size that does not have some mass public transit. A vibrant mass transit system will not be a luxury. It will be a vital necessity for southeastern Wisconsin to continue its growth with Chicago as a major acropolis in the world. Mass public transit would be a savior if Chicago hosts the Olympics in 2016 and it ultimately will be a necessity for Madison to partner in our growth.

    We need to develop a mass transit plan for southeastern Wisconsin and we need to have it supported by a dedicated funding source. This is an investment in the future of southeast Wisconsin for people from all walks of life and economic levels. We have a wonderful place to live, but we need to focus more on economic development or our growth potential will falter, as then will our quality of life.

    Mass transit is key to our growth. We citizens need to give this message to the legislators, who were elected to serve us. The timing for this is crucial. We need to get started now as the state of Wisconsin will soon begin its budget work for the biennium. This investment will take a long time to implement, but we can’t wait two more years to start.

    There is a long list of diverse people supporting mass transit that have come together and are known as the Coalition for Advancing Transit. In the weeks ahead, this Coalition of volunteers will be increasingly vocal in favor of developing mass transit. This issue is bigger than any individual city or county and needs cooperation among all of those entities in southeastern Wisconsin. Our goal is to demonstrate how local and regional leaders can and must work together for the best interests of southeastern Wisconsin.
    Transit – let’s get moving!

    Tom Rave the executive director of The Gateway To Milwaukee.

    Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

    Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

    No posts to display