05 May 2011

The writing on the wall of Wisconsin's transportation, or the dire death of KRM

For many years, Europeans speculated about the Indian Rhinoceros.  Artists, like Albrecht Duerer, drew elaborate pictures of a metal plated beast with a horn on the tip of its head and another pointing out from its shoulders.  Many years after the well known Duerer wood print was circulated, travelers brought back first hand stories of the Indian Rhino.  Later, in the mid 1600s an Indian Rhino was actually in gifted to England.  Yet still the myth that the Indian Rhino was a beast with two horns persisted.  Artists created sculptures and drawings that persistently showed the second horn between the shoulder blades years after the Indian Rhino had been well introduced to Europe and they could see that there was no second horn.

So it is that our mythology survives embedded in the inner workings of our brains.  Myths are often more lifelike than reality.  Gov. Walker refused $810 million in federal money that would have connected Minneapolis to Chicago via Milwaukee and Madison by rail.  This would have been a bold investment in the transportation necessary for business in the future.  As the j.s. reported yesterday, something all of us are familiar with, the cost of travel is rising (see Business travel costs continue to climb).  Yet the myth that our cars provide the best form of travel for us persists.  Gov. Walker will be seeking to expand a highway into an interstate at a cost of $1.5 billion over six years.  While his budget guts the funding to public education, tax credits for poor, public transit, and state health insurance, Mr. Walker proposes to expand the archaic freeway system.  While this may seem like a joke, it isn't yet.  The punchline is coming.

Former Gov. Doyle had created four Regional Transportation Authorities (RTAs) that could assess a .5% sales tax to generate revenue in order to fund construction of a rail line between Kenosha and Milwaukee, called the KRM Commuter Rail.  The KRM would link to the Metra in Kenosha effectively linking Milwaukee to a million jobs.  The average daily ridership for the Kenosha Metra line in 2010 was over 36,000.  According to Transit Now, the KRM would create up to 71,000 jobs through support of long-term development around stations, over 3560 jobs, and $425 million impact on area economy in the construction of the KRM, and provide126 jobs, and $24 mil. annual impact on economy, in KRM operations and maintenance.

The idea of having a cost effective way to travel from Milwaukee to Chicago that also created jobs, and built a reliable infrastructure for the future seemed to be a no-brainer if there ever was one.  Unfortunately, Wisconsin's current leader as well as the republicans who serve him, have no brains.   Now here is the punchline: On May 3rd, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) voted 12 to 4 strictly along party lines to support the proposal to eliminate RTAs and the commuter rail.

And the reasoning behind the vote?  The closest Wisconsin will probably get to a rational explanation was offered by Robin Vos, (R-Burlington), the co-Chair of the JFC.  He called RTAs "undemocratic and unaccountable."  Okay, thanks anyway.  Does it seem a little strange that a public transportation system would be undemocratic?  Isn't it more likely that it's democratic since it serves the people?

Investing in public transit creates networks for business to travel on.  Traveling in cars, planes, and trucks is one of the least cost effective ways to do business.  In order to add clarity to his previous statement, Mr. Vos added, "Let's finally bury this in the ground -- deep."  The unified republican stance is that RTAs are wasteful, unpopular, and promote higher taxes.  If that seems shortsighted, that's because it is.

The shared mythology that public transit is a drain on society contradicts the facts.  Yet Wisconsin's leaders cling to it like dingleberries.  Around the world, most developed nations rely on public transport systems because they seemingly understand the four pillars of a strong society: education, health care, safety, and transportation.  Because of our current administration's conservative policy, we are losing a chance to be better prepared for a time when there is little oil and higher gas prices - higher than $4.30 a gallon.  Gov. Walker ran on a pledge to build a strong Wisconsin for our children and our grandchildren - he seems to have fallen back on ancient myths instead.

Do you think we should be investing in rail or in new interstates?  Which type of transportation is more effective, both in cost and safely delivering people to their destinations?
On a completely different note: it came as some relief to know that not everyone was jubilant about the execution of Osama bin Laden.  We have not heard the last of our violation of Pakistan's sovereignty by sending in our Navy SEALs either.  That will not reflect well on our record.  The key to any situation is empathy - try to imagine the tables turned.  
One last note:
Have you ever visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky?  Evidently, it's unforgettable  But if you can't make it, our friends at the Skeptical Monkey can take you on a virtual ride of your life.  Get ready to travel back 6,000 years to the beginning of everything!

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