SERTA: Transit News & Notes

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee needs a transit authority now

Posted in Uncategorized by SERTA on January 23, 2010

http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/82436092.html  

 Editorial

Milwaukee needs a transit authority now

And a half-cent sales tax to go along with it to fund transit. The governor’s proposal is something on which to build.

 

Posted: Jan. 23, 2010 4:00 p.m.

With all due respect to the governor and other politicians who attended a news conference unveiling transit legislation Tuesday, theirs may not have been the most important voices at the conference. More important may have been the business executives and labor leaders who touted the need for a strong regional transit system that can adequately serve workers and families.

“This is a priority. This is not a want. It is an absolute need for business in our area,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO of Bucyrus International.

“It’s really frustrating to see the constant deterioration of public transit as fares go up,” said Ed Zore, CEO and president of Northwestern Mutual Life, adding that the funding and regional planning provided in the proposed legislation were needed to “coordinate the system or pretty soon we’ll be without one.”

“We have 10,000 employees in the area and shoppers alike who need transit,” said Roundys Chairman and CEO Robert Mariano. Public transportation “reflects the way an area looks upon its people . . .  our citizens deserve better . . . . It’s critical that this legislation be passed in the spring 2010 legislative session.”

And Jeff Van Konigsveld, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 430, urged lawmakers to note that the issue cuts across all socioeconomic and political lines and affects people of all ages, regardless of gender or ethnicity. Citing the economic development and jobs potential linked to other regional transit networks, he urged lawmakers to “understand that this is not a partisan issue but a path to the future . . . a game-changer.”

Those leaders, and the political leaders who joined them Tuesday and advocates such as the group Transit Now, are right. If the foremost issue of these times is jobs – and it is – a sound transit system is a necessary component of maintaining and creating jobs.

Yes, road improvements such as rebuilding the Zoo Interchange are still necessary. But just as important are sound bus systems, commuter rail links such as the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee line and regional transportation authorities that can provide appropriate oversight and coordination of systems throughout the region.

The proposed legislation laid out by Gov. Jim Doyle and legislative leaders on Tuesday may not be as strong as the legislation Doyle pushed for a year ago, but it still provides a solid framework on which to eventually build a true regional system.

The bill would create a Milwaukee County transit authority that would be one of several temporary local transit authorities that eventually could merge into the existing Southeastern Regional Transit Authority, which oversees the planned KRM Commuter Link rail line. Other county or municipal governments that run bus systems also could form temporary transit authorities in Kenosha, Racine, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties.

The bill also would authorize the Milwaukee County Board to approve a half-cent sales tax hike for transit. That funding is necessary, as County Board Chairman Lee Holloway has correctly stressed, to save the Milwaukee County Transit System and to restore service that has been lost in recent years. It also would reduce the system’s burden on the property taxpayer, which is what county voters said they wanted in a 2008 referendum.

The bill isn’t perfect; legislators should make sure they pay attention to other concerns raised by Holloway. And they should erase any funding inconsistencies between counties, as Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has pointed out.

But this is a great start, as business and labor leaders understand.

Do you support formation of a Milwaukee County transit authority and a half-cent sales tax to support transit? To be considered for publication as a letter to the editor, e-mail your opinion to the Journal Sentinel editorial department.

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