Here is TransitNow's report of Wednesday's Legislative Day briefing on transit:
Madison. – It’s the 11th hour and legislation is needed now to allow Regional Transit Authorities to plan and build the transportation networks Wisconsin needs to keep its transit systems intact, create jobs, attract investors, qualify for federal funding, and advance state efforts to compete in the global economy.
That was the message delivered to the governor’s staff and lawmakers when economic development and labor leaders, mayors and transit advocates descended on the state Capitol Wednesday for a briefing during the Wisconsin Urban & Rural Transit Association Fall Legislative Day.
The briefing was part of a busy day-long schedule focusing attention on concerns that Wisconsin is moving dangerously slow and trailing other states badly in a game it can't afford to lose: creating regional transportation networks that encourage economic development, connect communities with each other, and people with jobs.
“We’re hopeful that the updated RTA proposal from Governor Doyle is a catalyst for the progress this moment demands,” said Kerry Thomas, executive director of Transit Now. “We encourge elected leaders to move an RTA plan forward quickly to allow us to stabilize transit systems in southeast Wisconsin and create the regional linkages so important to a thriving economy and the job connections we need to keep people working.”
Thomas commented after a briefing at which Dan Kanninen, legislative director for Gov. Jim Doyle, updated the group and discussed proposals that would build on earlier RTA legislation to include buses along with commuter rail in an efficient integrated truly regional system. A diverse group of over 80 mayors, organizational leaders, state legislators, and others attended the meeting that was followed by a news conference and breakout sessions that focused on economic development, jobs, and labor issues related to transit.
“A modern transit network is fundamental and essential to job growth and a sustainable economy,” said Jeff Van Koningsveld, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 430 and co-chair of the Racine Transit Task Force at an afternoon session dedicated to job development and labor issues. He is a strong proponent of a regional transit network that includes integrated buses and the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee Commuter Rail proposal (KRM) that would link three of the state’s five largest cities and anchor a transit network that would tie Southeastern Wisconsin to the Chicago area.
“Our Racine coalition is diverse and transcends party and economic lines. We are corporate and union; small business and faith-based groups; environmental and city officials,” said Van Koningsveld. “Some would say that today’s economy is not the time to push for capital improvements to transit. The truth is we can’t afford to wait. The return on this investment is real and substantial, to the tune of billions of dollars of economic development benefits over the next two decades.
He cited a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study that estimated initial KRM start-up efforts will create nearly 4,000 jobs and spur economic development along the corridor including that would support the creation of up to 71,000 jobs over 25 years; 17,500 of them would not be realized at all without KRM.
Bill Johnson, executive director of the Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin (UEDA), spoke at the afternoon economic development session. He said recent transit cuts have cut off workers who do not have access to a car from 40,000 jobs, and more transit cuts are expected to cut off another 60,000 jobs in the coming years. UEDA oversees the Coalition for Advancing Transit in metro Milwaukee.
"Transit is a vital infrastructure component that builds the local and regional economy, returning many times the original investment," Johnson said. "Southeastern Wisconsin cannot afford to fall farther behind other metropolitan regions that have chosen to utilize transit investments to attract business growth and top talent."
Thomas noted that because southeast Wisconsin is a key “economic engine” of the state, transit policy there affects the economy and tax base of the entire state. “Simply put, our current transit structure can no longer support the needs of our region or our state. We are losing ground quickly and need to act now.”
The daylong event also included meetings with key legislators and a ceremony honoring two lawmakers instrumental in efforts to advance Regional Transit Authorities in Northern Wisconsin areas. State Sen. Robert Jauch and State Rep. Gary Sherman received Legislator of the Year awards from WURTA for their contributions on a budget amendment enabling the formation of an RTA in Ashland and Bayfield counties. WURTA represents 28 urban and rural bus systems, 43 shared ride taxi systems, as well as 24 associate and affiliate members in promoting the interests of public transportation in Wisconsin and how investing in transit provides long-term economic benefits in the state.
The Coalition for Advancing Transit was formed from the recommendations of the attendees at the Urban Economic Development Association’s (UEDA) Seventh Annual Summit held in Milwaukee in June 2008. The Coalition’s focus is to advance and improve transit by securing a dedicated funding source. CAT works to foster regional cooperation, political and community support for the preservation and improvement of transit. Over 190 organizational and citizen members work to expand public transit to serve residents, businesses and visitors throughout southeastern Wisconsin through outreach, education and advocacy.
The Urban Economic Development Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting economic development and housing initiatives that revitalize Wisconsin communities and to building capacity in the community development field through professional training, innovative solutions, policy advocacy and collaboration. See more about Urban Economic Development Association and Coalition for Advancing Transit at www.uedawi.org.
The Racine Transit Task Force represents over 180 organizations, individuals and business leaders in Racine County and provides transit outreach, education, and advocacy. It was created as an outcome of the efforts of a diverse group of transit advocates to collaborate to build community and political support to expand transit that will: connect workers and employers, grow jobs, spur sustainable economic development and global competitiveness, reduce the brain drain, decrease our dependence on foreign oil, and improve the quality of life in Racine County and throughout Southeastern Wisconsin.
Southeastern Wisconsin Coalition for Transit NOW (Transit NOW) is a regional non-profit organization in SE Wisconsin that was formed in 1992. Transit NOW provides outreach and education and networks with hundreds of businesses, organizations to facilitate transportation solutions that link people with jobs, spur sustainable economic development, and enhance the quality of life in SE Wisconsin. See more about Transit NOW and the Racine Transit Task Force at www.transitnow.org.