Rail would provide easier access to suburbs south of city
The ongoing saga of transit in southeast Wisconsin added another chapter last week, with Gov. Jim Doyle proposing regional authorities be created throughout the region — a move that could lead to a long-planned Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rail line.
The proposal would give the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority the responsibility to oversee the management of bus systems throughout the region and handle the possible creation of the KRM rail line.
The projects would be funded through a combination of sales and property taxes and vehicle registration fees. In Milwaukee County, Doyle is proposing a 0.5 percent sales tax that was approved by voters in November 2008 as part of a larger referendum.
But critics of the sales tax increase say that measure included support for areas besides transportation.
“The language of the referendum from 2008 supports parks and education, not just transit,” said Fran McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican candidate for governor.
Before the KRM line becomes a reality, however, the federal government wants to see improvements in regional bus systems, said Ken Yunker, executive director for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, which is planning the KRM line. In the last five years, the Milwaukee County Transit System alone has seen a 20 percent cut in bus routes and a 50 percent increase in fares.
“The Federal Transit Authority has made it clear that it would be unreasonable of them to consider funding the KRM line if the bus systems continued to be in a funding crisis,” Yunker said.
SERTA is completing studies of the project and is considering applying for a federal grant, Yunker said.
“The KRM line will reduce air pollution and provide access to jobs for over one million people who live within a mile of the rail line,” Yunker said. “Businesses want to locate somewhere with mass transit systems, which is why the rail line is needed.”
State Rep. Robin Vos (R-Racine) opposes the KRM rail line, claiming that it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“Simply put, the taxpayers have been fleeced by Gov. Doyle and the southeastern Wisconsin Democrats who proposed this transit plan,” Vos said last week in a press release. “Their claims that this bill is good for jobs, for commuters and for taxpayers is false.”
The proposed KRM line would run from downtown Milwaukee to Kenosha, making nine stops along the way. Passengers could then connect to the Metra rail, which currently runs from Kenosha to downtown Chicago. The total cost of the 53-minute trip from Milwaukee to Kenosha would be similar to that of a bus fare, Yunker said.
Yunker admitted that Amtrak’s Hiawatha service would be more feasible for those who wish to take a train from Milwaukee to Chicago.
“The KRM line makes sense if you are a Marquette student from say, Waukegan, and you wanted a convenient and cheap way to get to Milwaukee,” Yunker said.
However, the new transit system is still years away. The earliest the KRM line could be up and running is 2016, according to SERTA.