By Candace Doyle
Editor Jan. 15, 2003
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker supports the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission’s freeway expansion plan, which the County Board is expected to vote on next month. “I believe that you have to have … a transportation plan that meets our needs,” said Walker, adding that SEWRPC’s $6.2 billion plan may not be foresighted enough. “There has to be a way to have a transportation system that meets our transportation needs and economic needs.” And contrary to those who oppose the plan, including Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, Walker said he believed the 20-year road project would not drive people and businesses away from the county. “We need more of a tax base, not less,” said Walker, who added that he still wanted “to be sensitive” to those residents and groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, that oppose the plan. Walker made those remarks Tuesday night as guest speaker at the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee’s annual meeting, held at the Wisconsin Club in Milwaukee. He also said that he has yet to decide whether he backs the building of coal-fire power plants in Oak Creek by We Energies as part of the company’s $7 billion Power the Future plan. That plan, too, has had its detractors, including a group that calls itself Responsible Energy for Southeastern Wisconsin’s Tomorrow and, again, Norquist.
Walker, though, said the plan, already approved by the Milwaukee City Council, has not yet come before the County Board, although the county’s development department is reviewing it. “We really haven’t taken an active role,” he said. “(But) I’m assuming before that’s resolved, they’ll come to me for some opinion on that.” Walker did, though, stress the importance of maintaining and upgrading General Mitchell International Airport, which supports the entire southeastern portion of the state and is vital to the state’s economy. For that reason, he said, the County Board will, when it meets with Midwest Airline officials, do what it can to help the ailing air carrier stay afloat. “We’re looking at ways to … continue to ensure Midwest Airlines is a primary carrier at our airport,” Walker said. “We want to stabilize those avenues and put in place a world-class airport.”
Beyond that, Walker said the construction market in the county looks promising in 2003 and that opportunities for contractors were available in the Menomonee Valley, the County Grounds in Wauwatosa, the Research Park in Wauwatosa and under the Park East freeway spur. “It’s exciting to see cranes all over the place,” he said. “I think that’s a good sign where we’re headed.”
Walker said the county pension and sick-leave scandal — and the state’s budget deficit — would likely force changes in how all levels of government in Wisconsin operate. However, he said he doesn’t foresee consolidating city and county services as a realistic cost-cutting measure. “I don’t think it’s going to happen in my lifetime, which means it’s not going to happen for a long time,” said Walker, 34. But Walker, who before being elected last year as county executive served in the state Assembly since 1993, said he could envision a more regional approach to providing services, such as having one transit system serving both Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. “I do believe there is real potential for regional service delivery,” he said. Candace Doyle can be reached at 414-276-0273, Ext. 125, or by email.