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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It's official: Rail line from Kenosha to Milwaukee is dead

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

Meeting for the last time Monday, the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority ended plans for a commuter rail line linking Milwaukee to Kenosha, Racine and the southern suburbs.

The RTA also asked that $6 million congressionally earmarked for the KRM Commuter Link be redirected to the Milwaukee County, Racine and Kenosha bus systems, if legally possible.

Much of Monday's agenda was dictated by the Legislature. In the 2011-'13 state budget, lawmakers ordered that the Southeastern RTA and its Dane County counterpart be dismantled, along with two other regional transit authorities that had been authorized but never formed.

The three-county body was planning the $284 million KRM and would have run the rail line. Plans had called for a 33-mile rail line with 15 round trips each weekday.

Unlike Amtrak's Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line, the KRM would have provided city-to-suburb and suburb-to-suburb service for commuters, students and shoppers. Passengers could have transferred to Chicago-area Metra trains at the Kenosha station.

Planners projected federal aid would have covered most construction and operating costs, with the rest coming from fares and a rental car fee of up to $18 a car.

But the Federal Transit Administration has held off for more than a year on approving the RTA's request to start preliminary engineering on the KRM. Federal officials have told regional planners they were unlikely to support a new rail line until the Milwaukee County Transit System was financially secure.

However, former Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature, then controlled by his fellow Democrats, deadlocked on finding a new way to finance transit. The new Republican-led Legislature has since approved GOP Gov. Scott Walker's budget plan to cut transit aid by 10% next year, slicing nearly $7 million from Milwaukee County buses.

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