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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gwen Moore: Hold up KRM until bus needs addressed

From an article by Larry Sandler in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Congresswoman tried but failed to block funds until transit system was secure

A proposed Milwaukee-to-Kenosha commuter train line has a new nemesis: U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore.

Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat, recently unsuccessfully sought to freeze federal action on the KRM Commuter Link, a $283.5 million rail line that would connect downtown Milwaukee to Kenosha, Racine and the southern suburbs with 15 round trips daily.

Like Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, Moore says she's not opposed to commuter rail but believes funding for Milwaukee County's embattled bus system must come first.

"A new commuter line between Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee will undoubtedly offer new benefits to our communities," Moore said in a written statement. "But I think it's important for (the Milwaukee County Transit System) to have a dedicated source of a funding because any new expenditures could come at the cost of current bus service. That's unacceptable."

Moore's action adds yet another layer of political complications for the KRM. The rail plan has drawn broad support from business, labor and community groups, but it has split transit advocates and is opposed by fiscal conservatives who don't want any new taxes. KRM foes have pushed anti-tax referendums onto the Nov. 2 ballot in Racine County and several Kenosha County communities.

Beset by rising costs, falling ridership and state and federal aid cuts, the Milwaukee County Transit System is facing a $10 million shortfall next year. County Executive Scott Walker has said he won't eliminate any bus routes, but he has not said whether he would seek fare increases or service cuts. Supervisors want a local sales tax to replace property tax support for the bus system, an idea that voters backed in a 2008 advisory referendum but that Walker opposes.

Transit supporters had hoped for a package deal that would have empowered a regional transit authority to fund both the KRM and the bus systems in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties. But when the Legislature voted instead for a compromise that would have set up a separate Milwaukee County transit authority with sales tax power, Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed it, leaving the new Southeastern Regional Transit Authority in control of only the KRM.

Federal Transit Administration officials have indicated they could approve preliminary engineering for the rail line but would not authorize funding for construction until the bus system is stabilized financially. Planners are counting on federal money to cover two-thirds of KRM construction costs, with one-sixth from the state and the rest from an $18-a-car rental car tax.

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