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Local rail focus a streetcar to nowhere

Like a lion stalking its prey, a streetcar sidles up to Milwaukee's Public Market. While the state killed regional rail this week, Milwaukee was making its pitch for a streetcar system. (Rendering courtesy of themilwaukeestreetcar.com)

By Joe Yovino

This week’s scorecard: Streetcar 1, common sense 0 (regional rail forfeited).

The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday approved construction of a $64.6 million, 2.1-mile streetcar line. Officials showed off this map to tout how the rail line could develop into a sprawling transportation system that could connect riders to destinations such as Miller Park and the Lake Michigan shoreline.

You know what also could have connected riders to Miller Park and Lake Michigan and beyond? A regional rail system. But that went the way of high-speed rail Monday after the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority disbanded and began disbursing its $1.2 million in assets among Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee counties.

The dissolution of SERTA kills a proposed $200 million, 33-mile commuter rail line between Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee that had been in planning for more than two years.

“It’s a day of disappointment when you look at efforts around regional transit,” SERTA member Julia Taylor said. “I’m sorry to see this day come.”

Don’t worry Ms. Taylor, we’ll always have our fancy streetcars to make us think we’re in 1960s San Francisco.

So, once again, the state will return federal money — this time as much as $21.1 million in grant cash.

Wisconsin already returned $810 million meant for high-speed rail and left the state’s taxpayers on the hook for $31.6 million for work the feds would have paid for.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee already has $54.9 million in federal money for the streetcar and plans to chip in $9.7 million from a tax-incremental financing district.

“I was really disappointed when the governor turned down $810 million (for high-speed rail between Madison and Milwaukee),” said Lee Holloway, chairman of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. “I think we’ll never get that opportunity again.

“Things have bypassed us.”

At least we’ll always have 1960s San Francisco.

Joe Yovino is the web editor at The Daily Reporter. He can’t wait to pick up the streetcar at the corner of Michigan and Broadway and ride it down the block to his car.

7 comments

  1. “1960s San Francisco”?? Where’s Joe Yovino been over the past ten years?

    Forty-plus American cities are already either running streetcars or planning streetcar systems, Joe. Kenosha has been very successful with them since 2000. Read this, Joe: http://www.infrastructurist.com/2009/05/04/chart-americas-streetcar-renaissance/

    What’s next, Joe, maybe an article on how night baseball will never take off?

  2. The worst part is most Milwaukeean’s have no idea that this is being built.

  3. Do you really believe that most Milwaukeeans are that ignorant, Sandy, after twenty years of debate on the topic and all the headlines that majority consensus has finally been reached?

    Coincidentally, this week Dallas’ new 1.6-mile streetcar line received its go-ahead too. It’s a collaborative endeavor involving the North Central Texas Council of Governments, City of Dallas and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) RTA. Service will run from near Union Station in downtown Dallas to the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Beckley Avenue in Oak Cliff. Toll-road revenues will assist in construction. Dallas will soon seek a design/build contractor and begin purchasing streetcars, joining 40 other American cities that are either rebuilding their streetcar systems or planning to.

  4. I base my judgement of the general public or “most Milwakeeans” on the many conversations I have had regarding the subject. No one that I have spoken to had any knowledge of this streetcar. Now you can tell me I must be talking to uneducated folks. You would be wrong, I have had conversations with people of all economic statuses and none of them had a clue. Sorry Brad.

  5. There’s nothing to be sorry about, Sandy; those of us who strive at being informed on current topics cannot be held responsible for those who will not.

    I won’t say your acquaintances are necessarily uneducated, but I will say they’re purposefully ignorant if they’re unaware of news repeated on numerous media outlets.

    I recall that one of my Dad’s pet peeves were his co-workers who’d bring in newspapers and never read anything except the sports section.

  6. Yovino is being a bit sarcastic here, and I cannot tell how he feels about the streetcar. I believe the streetcar is going to be a big hit with Milwaukeans and it will grow, as planned. To look at other cities is the only proof I need. Smaller cities than Milwaukee have grown streetcar systems beyond our 2+ mile plan.

    I would like to correct one factoid in Yovino’s column, if I may. The KRM was not “disbanded [by its members]” but it was cancelled by law in Madison, over the better judgment of the parties in SE Wisconsin that were in charge.

  7. Bill Sell writes: “The KRM was not ‘disbanded [by its members]’ but it was cancelled by law in Madison, over the better judgment of the parties in SE Wisconsin that were in charge.”

    Correct, and I feel that the rabidly anti-rail/pro-road ideologues in Madison prompted by Robin Vos of Racine County illegally overstepped all bounds by prohibiting by statute a permitted function – a Regional Transportation Authority – that Milwaukee already had approved in a legally-binding referendum.

    And I feel that this can be overturned in a court of law should it be pursued by interested parties.

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