By Roger Caron, President, Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce and
Jeff Van Koningsveld, President, IBEW Local 430, and co-chair of the Racine Transit Task Force
Transit is about economic growth and jobs – JOBS, not ideology.
If we want jobs and a stronger economy, we must pass Regional Transit Authority legislation in Wisconsin and not let politics hinder progress and prosperity. Let’s take constructive action that will build us up as a county and region.
Lower the volume on all the fear and misinformation and an alarming fact still rings clear: we have the second highest unemployment rate in the state. There’s no denying that we must do something about jobs and unemployment.
Nor can we deny government’s responsibility to serve the people. All transportation modes, not just roads, are the responsibility of government. Individuals can’t get our faltering bus system in order; our leaders must. The only way we can effectively develop the transit we need to strengthen our economic future is through cooperation and a regional effort.
Racine CEOs testified at an Assembly hearing in Madison recently that passing RTA legislation would be the single most productive action our representatives can take to impact job creation and cultivate economic growth while also allowing us to adequately fund bus service, the cornerstone of any regional transit system.
Ideological differences and political positioning are creating an environment that’s hindering wise investment of our resources in transit projects that leverage significant private dollars and federal funds to create jobs and get people connected to jobs. Left unused, this federal money goes to other states and regions. Isn’t it time we started to finally get our fair share of the dollars we send to Washington?
Besides allowing us to improve deteriorating bus transit, the RTA bill is necessary for securing federal funding for KRM commuter rail, which would network with buses to expand connections to economic opportunities in other areas. KRM will also help make us more competitive with places such as Minneapolis, St. Louis, and other peer metro areas in attracting jobs and businesses.
For the short term, simply building the KRM line, along with projected growth around the project, will create nearly 4,700 jobs. In addition, KRM will help support the creation of another 71,000 jobs linked to both short- and long-term development.
Although these jobs are in and near Racine and along the KRM corridor, they impact everyone. The people working them will be from all parts of the county. And, as the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission notes, everyone will gain access to over 1 million jobs within the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor as a result of better bus connections and KRM.
Some people have voiced doubt about KRM ridership projections of over 2 million passengers a year. Ridership figures are modest and based on years of highly scrutinized studies. The projection methodology and formulas (required by the Federal Transit Administration) are purposely very conservative. Ridership results for most new transit line using the same required methodology have exceeded estimates far sooner than expected, as evidenced in Phoenix, Charlotte, Minneapolis and many other metro areas.
Looking at other areas shows there are tax base benefits too. For example, in addition to helping create 91,000 permanent jobs by this year, Metrorail in Northern Virginia will also generate 2.1 billion in tax revenue, 26.8 million square feet of commercial development, and 31,000 additional residential units, according to the Urban Land Institute.
And while the naysayer might note Racine is not Northern Virginia, nor are we some dustbowl town with no vision and no future – that is unless we choose to let ideological bickering and political acrimony get in our way.
Locally, KRM train stations, including two here in Racine County, are projected to similarly spur increased property values by an estimated $7.8 billion and generate $750 million increase in retail sales over 25 years.
And the public decidedly favors RTA passage. That hearing in Madison we mentioned earlier drew a broadly representative overflow crowd, many of them from our local communities, and yielded seven hours of testimony. Just one person voiced only mild opposition, a clear indication that this is not a partisan issue. Why make it one?
Let’s tell our legislators to get the RTA bill—a jobs bill—done now. We all need to stand up and support our legislators that advocate for this very important, forward-thinking legislation!