Gov. Jim Doyle came to town Tuesday afternoon to deliver more than $2 million to the city for new buses -- but as a photo op the event was a big letdown.
Oh, everybody was there at the historic State Street train station, which now serves only city buses. Mayor Tom Friedel was there; County Executive Bill McReynolds; City Council members Jim Spangenberg, Ray DeHahn and Jim Kaplan. Mayoral candidate John Dickert, RUSD Superintendent Jim Shaw, Police Chief Kurt Wahlen...
But there was no check!
Not even one of those big, fake checks used at all the best here's-your-stimulus-money photo ops. Oh, there was an easel set up for it -- but that was quickly taken down as the governor arrived.
Not to worry, said Friedel. "Wire transfer."
Well, OK, then let the party begin!
Doyle was welcomed first by Curtis Garner, executive director of the Belle Urban System, who noted that the money "doesn't solve all our long-term needs, but we've been on kind of a starvation diet for the past eight years under the Bush Administration."
But buses were far from all that was on the minds of local officials. Mayor Friedel made that clear as he welcomed the governor, thanking him for "the dedicated funding source you included in your budget" for a Regional Transit Authority. "I can't wait for the day we can get on a high speed train in Milwaukee. All we need is the opportunity for Racine to join the regional job market."
While the money Doyle brought today will buy buses, Doyle, too, was looking beyond local transit. "The stimulus act is a real opportunity to improve life in our state, for years and years to come," Doyle said. "It is very important that people are able to move around and get to work, and to move from one city to the next..." But he did also say, "This is not all about rail; the bus system will be the heart."
The money Doyle -- part of $34.5 million in funding given the state from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- will go to:
- Four hybrid buses ($1.04 million). Doyle said these four buses will save the city about 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year.
- Three clean-diesel buses (($1.08 million). These will replace older buses and are 40% cleaner than older diesel technology.
- Magnetic swipe card system ($185,000). This will allow passengers to pay using credit or debit cards. Doyle also said it would tell drivers whether students using the card were allowed to be out of school, say for work-study programs.
While most define regional transit as KRM commuter rail, an RTA should also provide better local transportation, as Mayor Friedel sees things. He noted that the BUS is a Racine construct: paid for with Racine tax dollars, and therefore meant to serve only the city. But with a Regional Transit Authority "we can wipe the slate clean," he told me. "We can start with some big spokes" -- out to the movie theatres in Sturtevant, say, or to I-94. "Now we have a city system; under an RTA we can have a regional one."
P.S. For what it's worth, the governor's black Suburban limo also stopped in Kenosha today, and dropped off more of those federal greenbacks. Kenosha got:
- Five new 35-foot replacement buses ($1,800,000).
- Security cameras in buses ($143,500)
- Plow truck, snow removal equipment and roof snow guards. ($229,000)
- Radio tower and repeater, to enhance communication between buses and the station. ($125,000)