SERTA: Transit News & Notes

Racine Journal Times Opinion Editorial: Regional transit needed to fuel businesses, economy

Posted in Uncategorized by SERTA on January 25, 2010

By Roger Caron President, RAMAC appeared in Racine Journal Times

As I look back on my 41 years of working in the community development arena, 28 of those with RAMAC, I realize more and more today the importance of not letting key opportunities for the future economic strength and vitality here in Racine pass us by without giving it more of a fight. I can’t help but sincerely regret our failure thus far to accomplish what would be one of the most fruitful achievements of all: regional transit.

Along with leaders in our corporate and business communities, I believe that a strong, well-integrated regional transportation network is imperative to growing our businesses and the economy while protecting our investments and quality of life. Improving transit is the next step that our community must take in securing a prosperous future,

This became all-the-more clear recently in a powerful display of bi-partisanship. Gov. Jim Doyle, elected officials and labor leaders, and many top area CEOs held a press conference to urge support for legislation that would give communities options for implementing regional coordination and dedicated funding for transit. Held at Bucyrus International in South Milwaukee on the opening day of state Legislature’s floor session, the timing and setting also spoke to the issue’s vital importance. Not only is Bucyrus the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial mining equipment, its location is near a planned station stop on the proposed KRM commuter line.

Bucyrus President Tim Sullivan told about 100 attendees that southeastern Wisconsin needs a Regional Transit Authority to plan and fund transit services comparable to competing areas and “get people to where the jobs are.” He said Bucyrus wants to add 500 jobs, on top of about 700 created in recent years.

But he warned that without better transit Bucyrus and other area companies are facing increasing difficulties in attracting the workforce and talent they need. He emphasized that better regional transit network is vital to their success and directly linked to job growth.

Northwestern Mutual Life President Ed Zore shared similar views, as did Racine’s own H. Fisk Johnson, SC Johnson chairman and CEO, and Mayor John Dickert. Roundys Chairman and CEO Robert Mariano, AT&T Wisconsin President Scott VanderSanden, and Jeff Van Konigsveld, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 430 also spoke.

The audience was packed with other business leaders, elected officials, and workers, clearly demonstrating this is a non-partisan issue that cuts across every political and socio-economic line.

With what may be our final window of legislative opportunity dangerously close to slamming shut, representatives on both sides of the aisle need to form a coalition and reach agreements to finally get this done.

Failure would be tantamount to biting the hands that feed and fuel our economic engine, by denying our businesses the tools to build a regional economy that can compete nationally and globally, and provide the jobs that keep our community strong and growing.

This legislation would allow Racine and other municipalities to create truly regional RTAs and decide locally how to fund and integrate buses and the proposed KRM commuter rail into a region-wide system. The result, the kind of regional transit we need. Without passage, not only will our bus system continue its steep decline, but KRM, and its powerful physical link to two major metro economies, will not happen.

This affects us all. Large and small businesses know it, labor knows it, manufacturing knows it, as do retailers, and municipal governments. Faith-based, environmental, and minority organizations know it too.

The data showing the economic and social benefits of a well-coordinated transit network is overwhelming. That’s why regions like Charlotte, Minneapolis, Portland, Phoenix and other peer metro areas have chosen to expand and invest in transit. With RTAs already in place, they’re on a long list of places far better positioned than we are to nail down federal funding. Moreover, failing to qualify or rejecting the money won’t lower taxes, it just gives more dollars to competing regions.

Now its our time to make potentially historic transit choices. We can continue to talk about other successful places; we can continue our political and philosophical bickering. Or we can take action now and make a real difference for Racine County.

A time to get on board may not come again.

Roger Caron is president of the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce.

Watch the CEOs press conference by visiting: http://tinyurl.com/CEOsRallyForTransitPt1

and http://tinyurl.com/CEOsLaborRallyForTransitPt2

Tagged with: , ,