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Lawmakers oppose KRM commuter rail application

A Metra commuter rail train leaves a station in a northern Chicago suburb recently. The Southeastern Regional Transit Authority voted Monday to push the KRM commuter rail project forward. The authority will now apply for federal approval to begin the project. (AP File photo)

A Metra commuter rail train leaves a station in a northern Chicago suburb recently. A pair of lawmakers on Monday sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration asking to hold off on preliminary engineering for the rail line. (AP File photo)

Two Wisconsin lawmakers are joining the fight to delay preliminary engineering work for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project.

State Reps. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, and Robin Vos, R-Racine, sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration asking that it deny the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority‘s application to begin preliminary engineering on the estimated $232.7 million rail project.

“It makes no sense to me,” Vos said Monday. “We should fix transportation first before assuming the state is going to pony up all this money for the project and before we know where the Legislature is going to go on the issue.”

The Legislature in the last session failed to pass a law that would have let the RTA raise a half-cent sales tax to pay for local public transit.

Vos said if a Democrat-controlled Legislature could not muster the votes to pass the sales tax increase, it would be even less likely if Republicans gain control of the governor’s office, Senate or Assembly after the November elections.

Ken Yunker, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, said the RTA’s application will be filed this week.

The application will include a similar letter from Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Michael Mayo and Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway requesting rejection until the state approves a transit financing source.

The lawmakers’ letter to the FTA does not help the case for the project, said RTA Chairman Karl Ostby. But he said it’s important to keep the project moving forward.

Ostby said he does not know how much work the RTA can do without a state-approved sales tax increase.

“I guess we’re going to find out,” he said.

If the FTA approves the application, the RTA could use up to $6 million in federal money to pay for 80 percent of the engineering costs.

But lawmakers need to do their jobs and commit to approving or rejecting the sales tax increase before any engineering work begins, Vos said.

“I don’t want to waste any resources,” he said. “Why not make sure we’re definitely going forward with this before we spend one taxpayer nickel?”

— Paul Snyder

16 comments

  1. Vos and Fitzgerald are two puppets of Big Oil, which does not want Americans riding public transit and not burning their petroleum. Koch Industries Inc. is an oil conglomerate with business interests throughout North America, including Wisconsin.

    Koch Industries’ founder, Fred Koch was a founding member of the John Birch Society in the 1950s, headquartered in Appleton, Wis., and against rail transit in all its incarnations for reasons that should be obvious. And they’re one of the main powers behind this radical Tea Party movement and the “Americans For Prosperity” corporate-funded front group that is about reducing protections like commuter rail.

    Big Oil-backed AFP is behind much of the climate change-denying spin that permeates the media and Greenpeace USA says the Koch brothers’ foundations spent $24.8 million between 2005 and 2008 on global-warming-denying opposition groups, such as the Mercatus Center ($9.2 million), AFP ($5.2 million), the Heritage Foundation ($1.6 million) and the Cato Institute ($1 million) and between 2006 and 2009, Koch Industries, its employees and relatives spent $37.9 million on direct lobbying on oil and energy issues. “They have a network creating a stream of misinformation that Koch-funded entities produce and disseminate,” the Greenpeace report states. “This campaign propaganda is then replicated, repackaged and echoed many times throughout the Koch-funded web of political front groups and think tanks.”

    Koch is lobbying against the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act, aiming to reduce Wisconsin’s dependence on fossil fuels, but Koch Industries owns a nearby refinery and a pipeline throughout Wisconsin. That refinery produces up to 40% of Wisconsin’s transportation fuel which may not meet the low-carbon fuel standards included in the proposed clean-energy legislation.

    Robin Vos, Jeff Fitzgerald and Jeff Plale and most state Republicans have been pushing for Canadian oil instead of advocating for Wisconsin-based renewable energy sources.

    “Americans For Progress” is who paid for those recent telemarketing calls urging opposition to the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line, which will lessen our use of foreign oil. And Scott Walker — who took an estimated $50 million in campaign cash from the roadbuilders group in Orlando last winter — swears he’ll stop the high-speed line to Madison, even if it means refunding $80 million in state dollars back to Washington!

  2. The fact is Americans are in love with their cars. People do NOT want the bottomless money pit KRM. How many different ways do we have to say NO KRM! Every time we turn around, a dem is pushing KRM in one shape or another.
    What happened to the North Shore Line? Bankrupt. How much do we TAXPAYERS subsidize Amtrack each year? Too Much! Amtrak has never turned a profit!
    How do you propose to pay for KRM? Ridership? NO WAY, won’t work. Look at every passenger rail in the USA. ALL of them are operating at a loss.
    We need to kick KRM out for good. If it was so profitable, why doen’t the Metra travel to Milwaukee?

  3. I was on the fence for some time on the KRM issue. I personally feel we could certainly use KRM but one aspect of it really bothers me. If we go ahead and create KRM and it becomes a reality just how the heck are we supposed to interface with it? In Mt. Pleasant, where I live, there is no mass transit solution that would allow me to get to the KRM train station economically. Likewise, how would I get around in Milwaukee? By cab? Just add up the costs. It makes no sense. If you live within walking distance of a KRM rail station then fine. Most people do not. But even the destination needs a mass transit solution. To look at KRM all by itself is not a solution. We need a comprehensive mass transit solution that would look at KRM as part of the whole system.

    As we start the terminal decline of oil I would seriously suggest returning to the days when we used electric trams on our streets. We need solutions which leverage our ability to get around without petroleum. Because 70 percent of our use of oil currently goes to transportation usage, electric based mass transit would not only allow us to materially reduce our dependence on foreign oil but give us a solution to mass transit which is scalable and more economical than oil based transportation solutions. KRM would then start to make sense.

  4. Karen is absolutely correct, Vos is a puppet for big oil and coal. Regardless, Americans will not be able to sustain the consumption of fossil fuel as we are. California is already looking at future rationing and limits on how much gas and oil the public will be able to consume. It will only be a matter of time before we begin to consider the same measures.

    An investment in commuter rail insures sustainable transit after oil become too limited or too expensive.

    Vos knows he’ll be long gone and the future can kiss his behind.

  5. At some point the illogic of all this spending needs to wake people up. Trains outside the east coast population centers aren’t sustainable without large government subsidy. Amtrak and Chicago Metra are only operating due to subsidy. Now we will have the high speed rail to be subsidized too. KRM will also needs subsidy. Where will all the money come from? It is sad that saying no to big spending gets you beat up in the press.

  6. No one is riding the bus line from MIlwaukee to Kenosha you exepct a train to do a better job?
    The CTA and Metra are deeply in the red so would KRM.

    Please kill this bad idea

  7. I hear “subsidy” as if no transportation project except potential rail transit projects are subsidized. The problem is that the local roads in the KRM region only get about 32% of their funding from user fees. The rest is (GULP) subsidized by area taxpayers. The Reason foundation did a study of how much it would cost to solve congestion problems entirely by building more (subsidized) roads. What they discovered was quite telling: 4 of the 5 most expensive areas in terms of dollars needed per delay-hour saved were in parts of Wisconsin where there are plans for RTAs, including the KRM area.

    One more data point: Back in the spring of 2008 during the gas price spikes, the drivers in Wisconsin spent enough additional money on pricey gasoline to build and operate 3 KRM-like systems for 40 years. The shortfall in supply that year was 1.5% worldwide, or the equivalent of 6% of US consumption. Just imagine if we built those rail lines that allowed 6% of drivers to avoid gas price spikes, and every other sate did the same – there would be no gas price spikes.

  8. Your logic is really flawed, Wayne, when you say “No one (?) is riding the bus line from MIlwaukee to Kenosha you exepct a train to do a better job?”, because I could counter with:

    “No one bought Studebakers; you expect Chevrolet to do a better job?”

    “No one goes to see the Cudahy HS football team; you expect the Packers to do a better job?”

    “No one went to see “Ishtar”; you expect “Avatar” to do a better job?”

  9. Thanks for standing up for us Robin….keep the faith. November is just around the corner!

  10. So while Republicans are having conniptions over a 200 million dollar rail project, the nation is spending 2 BILLION on two cloverleafs in Wisconsin.

    Way to make priorities, guys..

  11. Have you noticed that every anti-rail comment could have been written by the same person?

    The similarities are way too close for there not to be some common source, and Big Oil and the powerful roadbuilder lobby — the two major behind-the-scenes money contributors behind these easily-manipulated Tea Partiers — oppose anything that will cut oil consumption and road use.

    We hear them objecting to costs, but only rail costs, and never the really expensive projects such as the unneccessary $2 billion I-94 widening (never up for a public poll, notice?) and that couple of cloverleafs that will also approach $2 billion. Just those two alone total four thousand million dollars … all without one peep from the TP sheep.

    Another usual-suspect commonality is when they pretend “no one” wants it (look above) and “no one” will use it.

    And then there’s the old favorite, “subsidy”. Why is it a “subsidy” if it’s rail and an “infrastructure investment” if it will burn more petroleum? (And they don’t mention worrying about subsidizing airports, harbors, parks, libraries or anything besides just rail, it doesn’t seem.)

    And then there’s their worn-out “old technology” bologna. That’s really reaching, because if they want to play *that* game, highways are mentioned in the Bible (the highway to Damascus, “quo vadis, Domine”, etcetera.)

    I won’t say their record’s broken, but I’ll say their lyrics seem more and more to have come from the same ghost-writer using lots of different noms-de-plume, and their lip-synching needs polish too.

  12. I take the Metra train to work every weekday, and it’s packed. The Metra train is packed on the weekends, too, due to people taking the Metra to go to Ravinia, Cubs games, Taste of Chicago, etc.

    Metra has not expanded to Milwaukee because 1.) it has dozens of projects on deck for expansion, but expansion in Wisconsin is at the bottom of the list behind rail expansion projects in Illinois, and 2.) it’s difficult to expand in Wisconsin due to the political difficulties of working in two different states.

    The KRM rail line wont force people to give it up their cars. It will be another alternative – a cheap, fast, safe, alternative – for people. Conservatives are supposed to be all about personal freedom. Isn’t it personal freedom to have the opton to choose between driving or taking a train?

  13. This Kenosha News KRM Line poll just closed today:

    “Transportation issues are hot topics these days. Improved bus systems, regional transit and the KRM line are floating as options. Just which way should we go?”

    A) The KRM line is a must for regional growth, development and jobs. We’ve got to fund it with some kind of tax. — 57%
    B) The KRM line is fine, so long as it doesn’t cost me a penny. — 12%
    C) Drop the idea. We can’t afford it and nobody will ride it anyway. Very few even ride buses; they should also pay for themselves. — 31%

  14. While obstructionists like Robin Vos and colleagues with secretive ties to Big Oil and Big Roads keep trying to delay the inevitable start of Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter service with their teabagger-slanted pleas that “no one wll ride it”, the rest of the nation rolls merrily along constructing their own commuter rail systems with federal funding including generous contributions from Wisconsin taxpayers.

    Such as in Phoenix, where Big Oil/Big Roads also tried scaring people with their patented “no one will ride it” hoo-hah during the hearings. Except they built it anyway last year, thanks to Wisconsin money, and last week came this report:

    “Phoenix, Ariz.-based Metro light rail recorded increased ridership in the first six months of 2010 compared with the same time last year.

    “The ridership trend is, on average, 13.5 percent greater than in 2009 and 53.7 percent greater than the original weekday projection of 26,000.

    “‘What’s unusual here is that 2009 was our inaugural service year and you would suspect that ridership would hit an all-time high and then level off in subsequent years,” said Metro CEO Stephen R. Banta. “But, we’re not seeing ridership soften. In fact, just the opposite is occurring with more and more people trying the system and connecting to work, school, leisure and life.

    “In April 2010, Metro had its highest month and ridership days on record serving more than 1.2 million riders and as many as 55,000 in a single day.

    “In June 2010, when ridership usually slumps as a result of the summer heat, Metro saw a 15 percent increase from 815,566 in 2009 to 942,154 in 2010.”

  15. As Milwaukee politicians — their brains stuck in neutral — continue their traditional quibbling and shortsightedness over the relatively-modest KRM Line project while trying to appease small groups of noisy teaparty extremists, the greater Denver area is the latest to celebrate its massive new commuter rail line project, FasTracks.

    And make no mistake: Wisconsin tax money is being used on this massive Denver rail project. (What, no squawks, Scott Walker and Mark Neumann?)
    =======
    “Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) broke ground today on the $1 billion East Corridor commuter rail line, the largest single rail project in the voter-approved FasTracks program. The groundbreaking ceremony was held at Denver International Airport (DIA) on the south lawn of the Jeppesen Terminal, the future site of the DIA rail station.

    “RTD Board Chair Lee Kemp told an audience of project stakeholders, elected officials and people watching via a live Webcast of the event that the progress marked by the start of work on the long-awaited train to the airport will boost the agency’s efforts to complete the entire $6.7 billion FasTracks program.

    “’The start of work on this ambitious design-build project represents one giant step in fulfilling the RTD board’s unwavering commitment to completing the entire FasTracks network,” Kemp said. “This is one major step forward in getting all of these corridors built.”

    “The East Corridor is part of the FasTracks Eagle P3 project, an innovative public-private partnership that also includes the Gold Line to Arvada and Wheat Ridge and a segment of the Northwest Rail Corridor to south Westminster.

    “Phase 1 of the Eagle P3 project includes the East Corridor, a new commuter rail maintenance facility, design for the Gold Line and short segment of Northwest Rail, the purchase of Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) rail vehicles and the electrical systems at Denver Union Station. Phase 2, which will build out the Gold Line and short segment of the Northwest Rail Line, is scheduled to begin following the award of a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) by the FTA, anticipated in 2011.

    “The project is expected to create up to 5,000 jobs per year in 2012-13. This includes direct, indirect and induced jobs that branch out to the larger economy.

    “RTD GM Phil Washington said job creation is such a vital component of FasTracks that the agency is taking the lead to establish a regional workforce development program to train skilled workers as part of the project. He introduced three of the first candidates for the program called Regional Workforce Initiative Now.

    “’The Regional Workforce Initiative Now — WIN for short — is a program that will identify and train individuals to become skilled workers, utilize workers who are already trained but who are looking for work, help them find jobs, maintain jobs long-term and ultimately, create a more diverse workforce,” Washington said.

    “The contractor for the Eagle P3 project, Denver Transit Partners (DTP), has agreed to make some of the jobs available on the project available for the workforce program. DTP is an international consortium of constructors, designers, transit operators and financiers that will design and construct the project, and then operate and maintain the service under a 34-year contract.

    “Those who attended the groundbreaking were given a colorful commemorative “VIP ticket to ride” in a plastic sleeve on a lanyard. Those who hold onto this memento until opening day in 2016 will be entitled not only to a ride on one of the first VIP trains to run from downtown Denver to DIA, but will also receive a souvenir gift marking opening day.

    “FasTracks will build 122 miles of commuter rail and light rail and redevelop Denver Union Station. The FasTracks investment initiative is projected to create more than 10,000 construction-related jobs during the height of construction and will pump billions of dollars into the regional economy.”

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