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Fighting over the railroad

Kenosha’s Metra rail station marks the northern end of the Chicago-area commuter rail line. The proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee line would extend commuter rail service north to Wisconsin’s largest city. (Photo by Scott Anderson)

Kenosha’s Metra rail station marks the northern end of the Chicago-area commuter rail line. The proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee line would extend commuter rail service north to Wisconsin’s largest city. (Photo by Scott Anderson)

The battle over the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter line is as much about the future of development as it is about construction of a railroad.

“We’re against it because of the cost to taxpayers,” said Dennis Kisley, a representative of the Racine Taxpayers Association. “KRM will end up being a nice subsidy to college students attending colleges along the route.”

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority wants to apply for federal money for the $232.7 million, 33-mile commuter rail service. The RTA wants the federal government to cover $158 million, with the state paying up to $40 million and the local RTA borrowing $40 million.

But there are strings attached to the federal money. It is unlikely to come through if the counties along the line do not beef up local bus systems to better connect to the route.

State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, sponsored a failed bill that would have let RTAs outside Milwaukee County pay for transit projects with vehicle registration fees, property taxes, hotel taxes or – if approved in a referendum – sales tax increases.

Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee  commuter rail opponent Dennis Kisley, (center) with Chuck Perroni (left) and  Brett Davis stand March 23 at a  commuter rail forum held by the Racine Taxed Enough Already Party. Perroni, like Kisley, is a member of the Racine Taxpayers Association. Davis is a  candidate for lieutenant governor. (Photo by David W. Hoel)

Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail opponent Dennis Kisley, (center) with Chuck Perroni (left) and Brett Davis stand March 23 at a commuter rail forum held by the Racine Taxed Enough Already Party. Perroni, like Kisley, is a member of the Racine Taxpayers Association. Davis is a candidate for lieutenant governor. (Photo by David W. Hoel)

“It’s a divisive issue in Racine County,” Lehman said. “It has more support in the city of Racine than in the suburbs and western areas.”

Lehman said job creation and development are two reasons why he supports the project. He cited a 2007 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study that predicted 71,000 jobs along the corridor and an increase in development and residential units.

“The metropolitan areas near the transit stations will have increased activity, housing, shopping, places to eat,” Lehman said, “all because of that transit development.”

James Smith, Town Board chairman in Somers, a town of 9,500 people between Kenosha and Racine, said developer Jay Hergott of Fettner Development & Construction Co., Northbrook, Ill., contacted the town about building a rail station and retail development connected to an already approved 180-unit residential development.

“We’re 100 percent behind it,” Smith said of KRM. “I can’t believe people aren’t supporting it more with gas prices what they are.”

It is hard to support a project based on erroneous estimates, Kisley said.

“The projections of ridership and economic growth are extremely overstated,” he said. “We don’t have a lack of transportation jobs. What we have is a lack of jobs needing transportation.”

As a former developer, Racine Mayor John Dickert said he experienced an immediate effect when the state Assembly effectively killed the KRM project in 2008. He said he had been working on $40 million worth of developments, only to have the deals fall through because the KRM did not move forward.

“To rebuild a city like Racine, you have to have infrastructure,” Dickert said. “You have to have an effective and efficient transit system.”

But the efficiency isn’t there for KRM, Kisley said. He said all of the major development in Racine County has been west of the city of Racine, meaning the commuter rail line will not help commuters or grow businesses.

“Kenosha has had commuter rail to Chicago for 20-plus years,” Kisley said. “There’s no development there.”
Kisley said his group, along with other taxpayer groups such as the Racine Taxed Enough Already Party, will continue to oppose the project and pressure legislators.

“Who picks up the bill? The taxpayer,” said Kisley. “Putting in a 33-mile track from Kenosha north to Milwaukee is not useful. It’s not a good use of money.”

6 comments

  1. The next governor will be a republican and you can kiss this multi-million dollar boondoggle goodbye.

  2. How do people like this Mr. Kisley manage to get quoted when they spout totally-imaginary and untrue comments such as “Kenosha has had commuter rail to Chicago for 20-plus years, There’s no development there.” Kisley’s comments are so unimaginably wrong that they’re *spectacular* in theit falsity.

    Kenosha is a boom town. Its biggest private employer is Abbott Laboratories. Kenosha is soon to be Wisconsin’s third-largest city. Metra ridership is at record-high levels. The downtown and Harbor-Park developments total a quarter-billion dollars in value. There are new, quality developments everywhere, even in this recession. There are so many people approaching the city for building permits that the city is insisting on precise landscape commitments and quality appearance, even for gas stations.

    There are so many people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  3. The development to the west of Racine County is a problem waiting for a solution. And everyone will beneift, especially the residents who love their countryside.

    Rail along the eastern, urban part of Racine will pull that development back to the city. Note that the urban areas of Racine and Kenosha continue to reflect the development that was triggered by the North Shore in the early half of the 20th century. Whereas, I-94 never really had that kind of dense urban growth, even after 50 years of new concrete.

    And it is dense urban growth that will protect the western part of Racine County from over development.

    It is less costly to develop in the city where there are more services, and with rail there is a reduced need to provide parking, which is the most wasteful component of sprawl covering farmland.

    Parked cars do not make commerce, but require as much space as a cubicle in an office where the actual work is done, where wages are earned, and where taxes are paid, and where families are supported.

  4. While i’s nice to live in the world you might imagine, we have to live in the world as it is.
    With the rising cost of fossil fuels and the degeneration of our environment, automobile transportation as the major, or first option has to be questioned.
    Just because the KRM is g oing to cost money does not mean it’s not an economically sound decision. We subsidize highway construction and gasoline fuel prices because we believed cheap automobile transportation was wise but that policy has begun to unravel.
    We need to change our thinking about moving people to jobs, services, recreation and shopping. The idea that rail does not positively affect communities is been disproven time after time by major cities and regionas all over the US, europe and the Far East.
    We need and integrated system of transportation that offers the option of using what’s best for the user. I for one would rather train to Racine, Kenosha and Chicago than drive my car. Actually, I’m thinking that if we had a first rate public transportation system I could sell my car. The question than would be what would I do with all the money I’d save?

  5. I worked in Chicago for years and took Metra from Kenosha every day. Now I work in Milwaukee and really miss the convenience of the train. I made it to work and home again on time everyday when I took the Metra no matter the weather. Amtrak going to Milwaukee is undepenable at best, and the cost of gas makes driving myself an economic nightmare. If the people of Racine County are all so against this commuter option – Fine – the train doesn’t need to stop in Racine, so stop bogging down this issue, remove your county from the equation, and let the rest of the world be sensible and economical about their commuter choices in the 21st Century. We’ll just watch your city flash by on our way to Milwaukee.

  6. Metra Would have been a good Idea for Milwaukee to bad they killed the plan to have metra come to milwaukee from Chicago.

    Metra is so much cheaper then Amtrack.

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