March 29, 2009
City rallies for KRM, as prelude to budget hearing
Racine awoke Sunday to weather not at all conducive to thoughts of a long commute. But by the time the KRM rally took place at 1 p.m., roads were clear and minds were focused on the future.
A future with commuter rail service from Racine to Chicago and Milwaukee, bus service from here to wherever jobs are, and a fixed-rail trolley around downtown.
The rally at what once was Racine's State Street train station, transformed a few years ago into a local bus depot, was a prelude to what organizers hope will be a good turnout tomorrow when the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee holds a budget hearing at Case High School and hears local testimony about the city's strong desire for millions of dollars in public financing for commuter rail and a regional transit authority to take over and improve local bus service. Gov. Doyle's budget has proposed to finance that with stimulus funds and a half-percent sales tax.
Mayor Tom Friedel, right, led the first of two trolley rides around downtown along the State Street-Main Street-Sixth Street-Marquette Street loop he would like to see a fixed-rail trolley some day. "This is the last, best chance Racine has to get on board with the rest of the country, with a good transportation system," Friedel said.
Focusing on jobs, and how to bring workers to them, he said, "A lot of the buses that leave our station do not go where the jobs are. A rail connection to Chicago and Milwaukee would bring our workers access to hundreds of thousands of jobs there."
Friedel said Racine's big employers "are telling us they need a regional transportation system to bring workers here. It's time; it's way time," he said. "We've been talking about this for 15 to 20 years."
Three mayoral candidates attended the rally: Kim Plache, Jim Spangenberg and Q.A. Shakoor II, but only the latter two rode the trolley around downtown. Spangenberg said "KRM is definitely part of our vision for Racine. This city is so great: great housing stock, the lake. There's no reason this city can't be more than it is now."
Shakoor pointed out the improvements and reduction in crime that have come in the last few years to his 8th Aldermanic district -- location of the State Street rail station -- and noted, "We hope we can push this across the finish line."
Petitions in support of KRM were available for signing at the rally, organized by Sandy Petrykowski of Community for Change. There were also cookies in the shape of train engines, with "KRM" written on them in frosting. (Too bad we ate them; might have made a difference with the legislators!) The Joint Finance Committee budget hearing at Case High School runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, March 30, one of half-dozen conducted around the state.