Although mass transit upgrades, such as the $810 million Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail project, have been endorsed by some prominent local business leaders, others object to the projects, which they say are way too expensive and will attract few riders.
“Honestly, I don’t know how much it will be utilized. I don’t see an overwhelming need for it in the current environment,” said Terrill Jannsen, president of Pewaukee-based Jannsen & Company S.C. “Traffic in Milwaukee isn’t that bad like Chicago. I don’t know if it will reach the masses like they want it to.”
“I think the people of southeast Wisconsin have missed the boat a little bit,” said Jaime Maliszewski, president of Milwaukee-based Reliable Plating Works. “It’s such an easy place to get around. We don’t have rail now. And we don’t need it. We can get around anywhere we need to. The people that want to do this – it’s more of a status symbol for them. But at what cost to our area? Do we really need this status symbol? I don’t believe we do.”
“If you look at the communities that have successful systems already in place, all of those areas have very dense populations,” said Jo Steinberg, president of Butler-based Midland Health Testing Services Inc. “Our (population) is more spread out. All those stops in all those areas to pick up people, plus driving downtown, it’s going to take a long time. Madison is a sling shot away (by car). It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“When I look at our highway systems, they’re not congested,” said Mike Judson, president of Pewaukee-based Judson & Associates S.C. “To get to Madison is an hour to an hour-and-a-half from downtown, and 45 minutes from Brookfield when there’s no congestion. (High-speed rail) will be great for events and recreation. For business, I don’t see an advantage. I would love to see it work. I think mass transit is a good thing. But I don’t know if we’re ready for it.”
“If we put this in the Milwaukee-Madison corridor, the operating costs will fall on the state of Wisconsin, and myself and other employers like me that are doing the best we can to hold onto our employees and more,” said Tim Peterson, president with New Berlin-based Sales Automation Support. “There will be even more businesses leaving Wisconsin and fewer entrepreneurs coming here.”
Some business leaders are concerned that funding for mass transit projects will compete with funding needs for major road upgrades, such as the need to rebuild and expand the Zoo Interchange.
“The Zoo Interchange is far more important than high-speed rail,” said William Mielke, president and CEO of Waukesha-based Ruekert/Mielke Inc.
“We need to keep our eye on the ball so that the Zoo Interchange project doesn’t get delayed even further,” said Kathryn Kuhn, associate vice president of government affairs of the Medical College of Wisconsin, located in Wauwatosa. “What we are concerned about is that there is only so much funding for the Wisconsin transportation system, and unless we can discover some alternative funding sources, we have to be careful on how many systems we choose to support. Our current transit system is critical to moving people to jobs and priority wise I think you really need to take care of what you have.”