Milwaukee is an eager and enthusiastic partner with Chicago in its bid for the 2016 Olympics, with its potential to bring in billions of dollars in revenue for our region. Nevertheless, we have a long way to go before the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) final vote on Oct. 2, 2009.
Public transit, both its availability and access, has surfaced as a key factor in the decision-making process. This is evidenced by initial reports from the IOC’s evaluation commission which ranked Chicago third among the other four cities on the ballot, particularly, because access between other critical venues, such as Milwaukee, is inadequate. This comes in light of the fact that both Madrid and Tokyo boast excellent transportation systems, both of which are currently ranked above Chicago as possible host cities.
Many see the potential for a Chicago-hosted Olympics as a golden ticket for funding highway and transit projects in our region. However, this perspective is flawed in its reasoning. Rather than being a trigger for the 2016 Olympics, this opportunity should be capitalized upon to construct a coordinated, efficient and affordable link between Chicago and Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee, as well as other communities in between, as a long-term investment in our region’s economic vitality and viability.
Ready to go is the KRM commuter rail project, which can provide access to a more talented workforce, a larger base of successful and growing businesses and a competitive position in the growing global economy. Public transit also offers advantages for low-income families, reducing their costs of commuting by as much as 65 percent. This not only lifts a major burden from property tax payers and citizens, but also strengthens the local economy through these families’ increased purchasing power.
As a region, we must not miss out on the opportunity to fully fund new and existing transit initiatives. The Olympic bid is just one example of the many potential economic benefits of connecting the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee region with Chicago. However, these opportunities will pass us by if we wait too long to take action. The time is now for our state and region to embrace a dedicated public transit funding mechanism and invest in our region’s future.
Bob Mariano, a Chicago native, is chairman and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc.