Lawmakers are trying to break the barriers facing the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project by removing the need for Racine and Kenosha counties to approve new taxes.
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said a regional transit authority amendment released Wednesday is intended to let Wisconsin apply for federal KRM construction money by 2011. The problem that has held up earlier drafts of the RTA bill, he said, is opposition to new taxes in Racine and Kenosha counties to pay for local bus system improvements.
Without better bus systems in those counties, the federal government will not award grants to pay for the $232.7 million KRM project, Mason said. The new RTA bill solves the problem by telling the state to give Racine and Kenosha counties $2.5 million for buses. The money would come from the state’s local transit aid program.
Instead of raising new fees, the communities would be required to spend the same amount of money in future years as they do in 2010, plus an annual cost of living increase.
“For $5 million a year, it’s the last thing standing in the way of leveraging a quarter of a billion of federal train dollars,” Mason said.
The state has approved a Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority to plan the KRM project. Local authorities created in the three counties would eventually merge into the RTA and pool their money. Mason’s bill would require all of the counties merge under one RTA by January 2011.
The Southeastern Wisconsin RTA this year is drafting an application for federal money for the project, which will include track improvements, new passenger and service stations and new trains.
The draft bill is scheduled for a public hearing March 11.
READ WISCONSIN GOV. JIM DOYLE’S REACTION TO THE PROPOSED REGIONAL TRANSIT PLAN
People are overlooking one major issue with proposing train lines between Chicago and Milwaukee. People on both sides of the state border here, just plain do not like each other. It’s not really the elephant in the room when it comes to KRM, it’s the brontosaurus in the room. If the train is viewed simply as Wisconsin taxpayers footing the bill for a train that whisps Illinois transplant yuppies away from spending their time and money in Milwaukee, then of course people are going to be against it. You have to convince people, if you build it-they will come. Some people just don’t get that. This train is going to be expensive to operate. Anyone who tells you it won’t be is not informed. Since Illinois will be seeing far more benefit from this proposed train than will Wisconsin, I suggest they pay for a share of operating it.