Milwaukee Needs to Upgrade its Transportation System

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

Planes, trains and automobiles. You might remember the Steve Martin and John Candy movie, where they made a disjointed cross-country trip using any transportation they could in an attempt to get home for the holidays. It took some of each transportation mode to reach their goal, and it will take some of each mode to make our economy reach its goals as well. Integrating various modes of transportation is how Milwaukee and the southeast region will move our economy forward.

The reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange (the largest public works project in state history) is just one facet of a complex transportation system that our region must develop, or redevelop, if we are going to grow our economy in this new millennium.

While freeways are the backbone of our transportation system, there is much more that needs to be done solve our transportation system needs for the future.

The general public understands this intuitively. According to a soon-to-be-released survey by the Public Policy Forum, the majority surveyed support quality bus service, a commuter rail link from Milwaukee to Kenosha and on to Chicago, high-speed rail and increased freeway capacity.

Transportation use continues to grow. As the population has grown, each of us individually also travels more miles. More people and more travel.

Meeting that demand is the challenge we must confront.

The public supports better transportation. They also are willing to pay for it. Most would support a higher gasoline tax if it was used to build and maintain a quality transportation system for the region and state.

The trouble is, over the last two state budgets, formerly dedicated transportation funds have been raided to pay for other activities of state government. The public wants a clear link between gas taxes and quality transportation, and they deserve one.

The public debate over the last several months over fuel prices and gasoline taxes has neglected one important element – the transportation needs of southeastern Wisconsin and the state.

The entire freeway system in southeastern Wisconsin needs to be reconstructed. We have made a start with the Marquette Interchange, but the Zoo, Hale and Mitchell interchanges all need reconstruction in the near future. Just reconstructing the existing lanes, with very few new lane miles, will cost $5 billion to $6 billion for the freeways in the region.

The North/South I-94 Corridor is beginning to move forward. That $1 billion project is key for expanded economic development in our area. We must have improved design and increased capacity on the most traveled artery in our state.

To coordinate with that reconstruction, we should create a commuter rail extension through the population-dense corridor from Kenosha to Racine and Milwaukee. The KRM, as it is known, will link the area with the larger economic region of Chicago to the south and help improve access and economic development in all communities along Lake Michigan that it serves.

The cities of Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha, along with the corresponding counties, have come together in an unprecedented way to plan for this new regional transit effort. Building the KRM and linking it to local transit service in each city, along with General Mitchell International Airport will create an integrated multi-modal transportation system for the Southeast region that will be a true asset.

The Corridor is obviously growing. Travel on Amtrack’s Hiawatha line, with its new station at Mitchell Field, has grown substantially in recent years. This growth illustrates the value of linking modes of transportation, increasing efficiencies for all.

Also the Zoo Interchange must move forward quickly. It is the single-most congested point in our state freeway system and ranks as one of the worst in the nation. Delays in funding for design and engineering are setting this project back by years. Businesses throughout the region pay a price for unnecessary congestion, not to mention the growing commute times in all directions from the Zoo. This antiquated and under-capacity design must be brought up-to-date if our region is to flourish.

Finally, we must create a world class airport. Mitchell International has grown and operated adequately under the direction of the Milwaukee County Board, but the world has changed. Businesses make decisions about location based on high-quality, frequent, direct air links. Individuals throughout the region pay for the operation of the airport, and it must serve the interests of all of them in a world class way if our area is to prosper and thrive.

Along with Sen. Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) and Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee), I have proposed the creation of a regional airport authority to operate Mitchell International. A regional authority better represents the interests of the passengers from throughout the region who pay for the airport through fees at the airport and the tickets that they purchase. Everyone who pays for the airport deserves some input into its operation.

Wisconsinites are some of the most productive, hardest-working people in the nation. They deserve a quality transportation system that allows them to compete in a world economy.

It is time for Wisconsin and the Milwaukee region to step up to the plate. We must build an integrated transportation system for the new century.

We must develop a transportation system to link the major population centers in our region with Chicago, one of the largest economies in the world … a system that will link buses to rail systems that connect directly to a world class regional airport with direct flights to destinations around the nation and the globe … a system that will have freeways with the capacity to move the best goods and services made anywhere in the world, and get those highly skilled workers who produce them to their jobs without unnecessary traffic jams.

We must adequately fund a world class, integrated transportation system. The public expects the leadership of our region to do this, and they will support funding for it as long as we respect them and stop taxing transportation to spend on other areas of government.

We all need planes, trains and automobiles, and we need them to link smoothly as they move our region forward into a global economy.

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