State should support commuter rail project

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:42 pm

    The proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail service is a critical piece of a 21st century strategy to keep southeastern Wisconsin globally competitive by linking Wisconsin’s urban hub more closely to Racine, Kenosha and the greater Chicago area.

    As one of Milwaukee’s representatives in the state Assembly, I applaud the efforts of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) to expand commuter rail service into the central part of the City of Milwaukee.

    Thanks go to the leadership of Gov. Jim Doyle who has taken an important step by including preliminary engineering funds for the KRM in his state budget. Now it is time for the Legislature to make this important project a reality. I urge my fellow legislators to include a local funding mechanism for KRM in the state budget, including taking into consideration the needs of Milwaukee County’s financially strapped bus system.

    There is no question that Milwaukee will make the biggest contribution for the local option tax, which I expect will be more than rewarding to our tax base, unemployment problems and overall quality of life. Milwaukee is the largest city in the state and Milwaukee County’s population is roughly equivalent to the combined populations of Racine, Kenosha and Lake County, Ill.

    Growing and expanding the economic pie will require regional collaboration on an unprecedented level among our local cities and counties. The KRM is a perfect example of the type of project that can further integrate our economy. It is strongly tied to the success of the governor’s Grow Wisconsin plan, which includes creating higher-paying jobs through regional workforce and economic development initiatives like M-7 and the SE Regional Workforce Alliance.

    It is no secret that for the KRM to be successful, it will need to be connected to a healthy public transit system. In addition to its work on KRM, the RTA has made clear its commitment to finding a local funding source for public transit that will remove local bus systems from the property tax. This is an important next step that will benefit taxpayers in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties, improve the health of our bus systems and maximize the opportunities for commuter rail.

    The good news is that there is strong consensus that transit is a key part of the economic development and environmental sustainability of the greater Milwaukee area. There is also strong consensus that the property taxpayer is maxed out and that a solution to public transit must provide relief for local taxpayers.

    Unfortunately, there is not yet a regional political consensus among local governments when it comes to choosing an alternative to the property tax dollars for bus systems.

    While it is critical to achieve a long-term solution for local transit, the inability of local governments to reach consensus should not impede the progress of the KRM. It is faced with a key deadline on June 30. It must have a funding source by that date to be eligible for the Federal Transit Administration grant that would supply the majority of resources to build the KRM.

    I pledge to work with members of the Joint Finance Committee, other Legislative leaders, the governor, the RTA and of course local public officials on achieving solutions in this term for a comprehensive approach to regional transportation, including funding for commuter rail, public transit and roads in southeastern Wisconsin.

    We must all keep in mind how close we are to a solution that will create significant economic opportunities for southeastern Wisconsin.

    State. Rep. Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee) represents the Ninth District.

     

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