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Road money muddies RTA debate

Paul Snyder
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A state budget amendment that would free up a Dane County regional transit authority’s money for road projects added fuel to an already heated debate.

Even supporters of the original proposal say the inclusion of road money sullies the original idea.

“My initial thought was that it should not be used for roads,” said Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison.

“We have segregated funds in place for roads, and I thought we didn’t want to add to the sales tax for road purposes.”

Nevertheless, Risser said he will support the amendment if it makes it to the Senate floor for a vote next week.

“I’m not going to argue one point,” he said. “The amendment says it can be used for road projects. It doesn’t mean it will be used for that purpose.”

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk began pushing for road project spending as an option for RTA money after the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance in April approved the creation of a Dane County RTA.

A commuter rail line from Middleton to Sun Prairie would be the centerpiece of an RTA, but Falk has argued improving transportation for the whole county means upgrading roads while also considering rail and bus options.

Assembly Democrats on Wednesday amended the Dane County RTA measure in the budget bill to allow road spending. According to the budget measure, the RTA would get its money from a half-cent sales tax increase.

The initial RTA dispute arose from communities that are not on the route of the proposed rail line. Residents objected to paying higher taxes for a service they said they likely would not use.

The inclusion of road money might make the RTA an easier sell to those communities, but Stoughton Alderman Larry Weiss said it also compromises the original idea. He said he would support the Finance Committee’s original RTA proposal but is undecided about the amended version.

“Road projects have a way of sucking up all the available money,” Weiss said. “I think an RTA is something we should be looking to in the future, but if the goal is to reduce the number of cars out there, the way to achieve it is not to build additional highways.”

For some critics, road money and rail lines have nothing to do with the opposition to an RTA.

“There are definitely roads in need of upgrades and improvement, and I’m OK with using funds generated by an RTA to support it,” said Cottage Grove Village President Scott Norton. “But it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t support a tax increase for an RTA right now.”

Yet Fitchburg Mayor Jay Allen applauded the change, saying the Legislature should give local governments flexibility in choosing how to spend RTA money.

“Saying it might reduce train money is a valid concern,” he said. “But I doubt the county will be required to determine a percentage of what money goes where. If it’s decided that more money goes to roads one year and more to trains the next, (the county) is competent enough to make that decision.”

Ultimately, Risser said, the importance of establishing reliable local transit options in Dane County overrides nitpicking an amendment.

“I’ve been in politics for 50 years,” he said. “We’ve passed tens of thousands of bills. I can’t remember a single one that’s ever been perfect.”

2 comments

  1. Why not take property tax money and pay for roads, then take that purloined money to pay for teachers, but just before that pay out take the money and pay for homeless shelters and so on and so forth. The arguments are silly and non-productive. The governor considers all monies coming from anywhere/any source to be one big pot to distribute as he and his willing accomplices see fit – paying off special interests along the way. I’m sick of it all. There is no honesty or integrity in Wisconsin State government any more.

  2. The problem is traffic congestion. The solution is bypass highways getting through traffic AROUND the Madison and the Isthmus, computerized traffic lights that respond to changing conditions, upgrading the county highways that have been ignored for too long,encouraging telecommuting, gradually moving government offices off the narrow Isthmus.

    Adding trains crossing 60 streets in Madison/Middleton- 41 in the Isthmus area – 160 times a day between 0600 and 11 pm INCREASES traffic congestion, pollution, frustration due to all those cars & trucks waiting for near empty trains to cross their streets. -including Emergency vehicles. Adding 8,000 RR crossings a day will drammatically increase congestion, even the Transport 2020 report admits this! This is one of the most expensive and dumbest ideas ever proposed for Dane County.
    K Falk asking for road money now as part of an RTA is simply another last minute political move to sway voters into thinking that highways will be improved, made safer with better free flowing traffic. Her record is frimly in the anti-car, anti-parking and especially in anti-roads- which is why our county roads are rated “F” congested and substandard. She and the county board has fought or stalled every road project that improves mobiltiy.This sop for roads in itself makes litte sense. If you are WISDOT and you see DANE County has their own funding source for highways what will you do? You will decrease the monies available from the State for Dane County and use the funds elsewhere Can you say Dumb and Dumber?.

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