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Regional Transit prospects may include KRM and SE Wisc. RTA, or not (Jan. 12) - A draft bill by Wisconsin Alliance of Cities of transit authority legislation embracing the entire state, first reported by Racine Journal Times in November, attained wider recogniton early in 2008 by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Kenosha News.. The new transit authority bill strives to mollify critics of the existing three-county SouthEast Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority created in 2005 by the Legislature, at the time controlled in both Assembly and Senate by Republicans. Partisan differences apparenly have emerged in the current Legislature, split one chamber each to Republicans and Democrats.
Kenosha News reports "Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia (Racine county), and four other Republican legislators may put their name on the bill as co-sponsors because they want voters to give a thumbs up or thumbs down on the idea of creating a regional transit authority." The News article details further the referendum bias for any spending preferred by Rep. Vos, who sits on the Legisluture Joint Committee on Finance.
Five Republiucan appointees join four Democratic appointees agreeing to Study Commission ten-point transportation agenda (Jan 18) - The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission shouldered a major obligation inherent in its mandate from Congress in 2005: reinvigorate public debate regarding the future of the surface transportation system. It has, and KenRail will in days ahead offer key excerpts at a page about 21st Century Transportation - for the U.S.A. Meanwhile, glance at the commission's site, the House Transportation and Infrastucture Committee site, and watch newscasts as headlines about gas tax increases give way to more sober discussion, less panicky concerns about cutting spending at all costs.
Wisconsin legislators package economic goals (Feb 1): Bundling seven distinct economic growth and budgetary items, state senators include KRM commuter trains and funding for the project accompanied with a $50 million road resurfacing increase, millions of dollars for expanding production of renewable fuels and for child care assistance (thereby easing deterents confronting mothers seeking work), and plugging a tax loophole. Kenosha News reports Senator Bob Wirch's support for the Wisconsin tax gain of as much as $90 million resulting from the plug was countered by Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) doubts. "The idea that you can grow the economy by increasing business taxes and regulation flies in the face of basic economics," Sen. Fitzgerald's statement asserts.
Kenosha News also reports Assembly Minority Leader Jim Kreuser (D-Kenosha) doubts the Assembly majority will concur in support for the seven-point Senate agenda, and that Gov. Doyle has encouraged legislators to devise a viable rail funding proposal. The small sales tax originally vetted by regional plan staff and set for Regional Transit Authority approval fifteen months ago bowed to a large hike in the existing car rental surcharge leveid in the affected three counties (Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee) which comprise the state's only active RTA. Southeastern Wisconsin RTA was creasted by legislators in 2005 with a mandate to devise a long term management structure and funding arrangement to sustain itself. KRM commuter trains have been its inital project, intending to bind the three distinct counties and their varied local bus operations under a gradually unifying RTA influence. Shifting demands on that funding aspect deflected plans to apply in 2007 for federal matching funds, and that stalemate persists. It persists in part because legislators in 2005 set a super-majority requirement for any RTA Board action.
Wisconsin budget refiguring underway, KRM considered for economic boost (March 21) - Lagging tax revenue to Wisconsin Dept. of Revenue has raised caution among Gov. Doyle and legislators of both parties, concerned that a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars over the next fifteen months cannot resolve by merely slashing state government programs and services. A fiscal fault line has emerged similar to last spring, but probably less grindingly stressed as Senate and state Assembly leaders pursue separate policy paths toward what must become an inevitable compromise.
And again as in early 2007, KRM funding appeared among inducers to economic growth, which in turn strengthens tax revenues. A typical summary appears at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of the budget priorities, their Senate/Assembly differences, and how more than $100 million in KRM funding unleashed by raising about $2 million annually in car rental surcharges fit into an array of budgeting decisions.
Sec. Busalacchi speaks to record WisARP semi-annual gatheirng (Mar 29) - Warmed by sunny skies and a radiant new atrium greeting bus and Amtrak travelers at the downtown Milwaukee Intermodal Station, the largest group in memory to attend a semi-annual Wisconsin Assoc'n of Railroad Passengers (WisARP) meeting heard the state Secretary of Transportation predict that train travel and train commuting must become integral to the nation's future surfce trasnportation infrastructure. Mr. Frank Busalacchi spoke firmly about the role he foresees for the hopes and dreams of many in attendance. He and Wisconsin native Paul Weyrich, who Busalacchi described as diametrically opposite in many policy matters, found common ground as two of twelve commission members appointed in 2005 to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission. The commission majority concurred, 9-3, in the balance among travel modes portrayed by Sec. Busalacchi to the rapt audience at the Milwaukee Hilton. and adopted months ago.
It could be a turning point which may be viewed years later as pivotal as the national policy set by Congress fifty years ago to build and maintain Interstate highways.
The gathering was keyed to attendance by anyone arrivng aboard Amtrak Hiawatha, begun in a walking group tour under the guidance and pleased explanation of lead WisDOT rail project manager Randall Wade. The Intermodal Station gathers intercity Greyhound Bus service, Amtrak Hiawatha Service, lakeshore city Wisconsin Coach service (distinct from its other routes, which may consolidate in coming months), and a Milwaukee County Transit System curbside stop.
Amtrak uses 30 percent of federal subsidy to offset freight delay costs (Apr 2) - An audit requested by senior New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and completed by the USDOT inspector general finds Amtrak could gain $111.4 million additional fare revenue and reduce $39.3 million in directly identifiable, delay-caused expenses, the OIG official summary declares. Combined with $14.1 million in performance payments paid to the host railroads once on-time performance (OTP) improves, the $136.6 million total rises to about 30 percent of the current federal allocation to keep Amtrak operating, an expense often cited by Amtak critics as wasteful. This audit is the first instance identifying a dollar amount for avoidable delays Amtrak cannot affect directly. The OIG offers a full report in Portable Document Format (.pdf) for anyone insatiable for data and free of pressing time constraints.
Kenosha mayor-elect ranks KRM highly, touts region and its growth (Apr 3) - Keith Bosman set a local record for margin of election victory, 70 percent versus 30 percent for his opponent, among city of Kenosha voters, surpassing the previous record holder, outgoing Mayor John Antaramian. But in one key aspect of the incoming and outgoing mayors' shared goals for their beloved city, Mr. Bosman volunteered to WGTD interviewer Greg Berg his readiness to sustain his predecessor's support for KRM commuter trains. (For an .mp3 audio stream of the entire interview, click here.)
"We have to start thinking regionally," Mr. Bosman asserted. Joint efforts with Racine for advancing KRM topped his examples as Mr. Bosman declared further, "(Racine) Mayor Becker is a proponent. I am a proponent" of the commuter train proposal which SE Wisconsin RTA considers its first major project along the policy path to someday consolidating three local transit operations under a single funding administration.
Before turning to other topics, Mr. Bosman also volunteered that "We need to think about these things [like KRM] now, because they take time to do."
The initial informal conversation among Racine and Kenosha train service boosters was held on a Saturday morning fifteen years ago. It graduated to occasional Saturday morning sessions hosted by mayors Owen Davies and Jim Smith of Racine, which led in 1996 to SEWRPC opening informal contact with those unofficial gatherings. A feasibility study followed, completed in 1998.
SE Wisconsin RTA funding increase again ignored by Legislature (May 16) - Budget repair was the stated purpose for holding a special sesssion of state Senate and Assembly in mid-May. Once again, the Senate might have acted on a funding increase request from Southeastern Wisconsin RTA, as it attemptred in February. But senators did not bother because once again Assembly reluctance stood in the way, although Minority Leader Rep. Jim Kreuser, D-Kenosha, persisted to the last as a compromise budget-adjusting bill was hammered out, Kenosha News reported May 13. "You have to move forward ... to get our fiscal house in order as a state," Rep. Kreuser told the News.
Amtrak awarded growth funding by Congress, president might not agree (June 12) - Senate approval of more money for Amtrak in S. 294 now is echoed by H.R. 6003, which passed by a veto-proof majority of 311 voting Aye, 104 voting against the bill assuring Amtrak of its funding for the next five years, through Fiscal Year 2013. Rep. Steve Kagen, representing northeast Wisconsin from his Appleton hometown, is the only Wisconsin member of the House co-sponsoring the bill introduced by Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar. The "Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008" sets goals for expanding passenger train operations beyond the national network established by the federal government and sustained against recurring opposition by a vocal minority in Congress, notably 15 years ago.
S. 294 passed with support of 70 senators about six months ago, including by Senator Kohl, now listed as a co-sponsor, and by Sen. Feingold. A conference between Senate and House will reconcile the two bills, which also will set nationwide metrics and minimum standards for measuring the performance and service quality of intercity passenger train operations and will direct an independent federal watch dog to compare the U.S. passenger rail system with the systems in specified other countries. A summary of manager changes and of seven amendments to H.R. 6003 appears at the weekly "Hot Line" page of National Assoc'n of Railroad Passengers. One Arizona amendment targeting costs per seat-mile was withdrawn.
Past federal budgets for Amtrak proposed by the president's Office of Management and Budget have ranged from no funding to cutbacks of its already inadequate allotment, which annually has been a time-consuming exercise for bellowing against Amtrak as if it spent as wastefully as departments funded at ten, twenty or even one hundred times as much. So acquiesence by OMB and President Bush is not certain. Two Republican House members representing Wisconsin voted against H.R. 6003, perhaps foreshadowing the position of the White House.
More study of tri-county transit needs, including KRM, snuffed as unnecessary expense (June 24) - Tax-conscious doubters of Southeast Wisc. Regional Transit Authority (SEW RTA) and its planning enjoyed single-handed help from the city of Kenosha board member, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. At a late June tele-conference meeting of the Board, a measure to allocate $50,000 for another study of all transit in the three counties failed to win approval, on grounds it "would duplicate past work € particularly in studying the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line – and, therefore, would be a waste of taxpayer dollars." Regional planners started inquiries into commuter trains for the corridor in 1996, funded a feasibility study completed in 1998, and have conducted a series of public events inviting community comment as planning proceeded and more study ensued. Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission integrated planning for bus services with the KRM proposal during that period.
Fragmented commute hampers key SE Wisconsin employees (July 3) - Eighteen months after Southeast Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority (SEW RTA) was rebuffed from increased funding by one elected principal among the six mayors and county executives sponsoring the tri-county initiative, Chicago Tribune observes in a July 3 story that key salaried personnel at S.C. Johnson Co., Racine, endure increased commuting difficulties from Chicago north shore homes.
Expressway reconstruction in Illinois north of downtown Chicago has maxxed out alternate road and expressway capacity, afflicting also commuters into northeastern Illinois communities with delays unimagined in years past. Metra added service along Milwaukee District-North and along its Northline between Waukegan and downtown Chicago to compensate for road congestion. But the newly modernized station at Kenosha, Wisc., where some Northline trains lay over for overnight cleaning, sits beyond the scope of full Metra control. Metra routes operated under contract by Union Pacific RR, including the Northline, already carry a large fraction of its total commuting ridership and adding service necessarily focuses on the most congested segments - including service between Waukegan and Chicago.
Relief from the present policy-making and oversight disconnect, which SEW RTA sought to address as one aspect of its 2005 manadate from the Wisconsin Legislature, awaits further adaptation by the SEW RTA Board as it hears a succession of change requests from its two Milwaukee members. Each of six elected principals that banded together in the mid-1990s to underwrite a feasibility study by SEWRPC of commuter trains along the 33-mile route appoints a Board member, plus one named by the state's governor. Intended expansion of transit between Kenosha and Milwaukee via Racine is prominent among the transit improvements planned by SEW RTA and the regional planning commission, which has served as technical advisors to it.
Amtrak Hiawatha trains fill added coaches (Sept 15) - Hiawatha riders crowded aboard Milwaukee-Sturtevant-Glenview-Chicago trains at more than twice the number of just five years ago, according to August data counting almost 79 thousand riders. Though specific station tallies are not available now, one-third more passengers stepped on and off one of Amtrak's most prompt services in August, 2008 than in August, 2007. Illinois DOT, Wisconsin DOT and Amtrak collaborated to add another coach to each trainset in mid-2007, increasing seating by 25 percent.
Hiawatha Service ridership has grown with only occasional pauses since WisDOT partnered fifteen years ago with its Illinois counterpart and Amtrak to assure expense support continuity and consequent trainset improvements. Daily trains have increased to seven trips northward and seven southward (six each on Sundays and holidays), added a stop near Milwaukee's Gen. Mitchell International Airport in 2005, and adapted to a new Sturtevant station one mile north of the previous location in 2006. Both new stations increased parking markedly for area travelers, anticpating continued increases in use which surpassed 500 thousand annually in 2005. Current predictions for 2008 forecast a 40-percent rise to 700 thousand in just three years, pushed up by spiking gasoline prices in the past year, much sooner than gradual gains once indicated.
Hiawathas keep high on-time standing (Sept 30) - Amtrak trains starting and completing travel at Chicago Union Station (CUS) drew renewed attention as gasoline prices climbed, then dipped and again started upward during late summer. Ridership continues setting records, and reliable arrival and departure times again prove crucial to building confidence among occasional and frequent riders of its train services.
Recent news attention on other CUS-origin trains in Chicago Tribune portrays a gloomy trend of Amtrak trains providing unsure times for boarding and for arriving at a destination about one-half of all Amtrak trips within Illinois, a valid reason for concern. But as Ben Heineman and Chicago & Northwestern Rwy. demonstrated almost one-half century ago in Tribune's defined "Chicagoland," trains operating on-time, and other public modes of transit and travel keeping to schedule, offer the most sure usage-building basis of all. Amtrak operating Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha Service consistently nears 90-percent on-time operations, slipping slightly below that threshhold in the past two fiscal years. Annual data for 2008 is expected in a few weeks.
Faster Midwest train travel advances, but not yet certain for Wisconsin (Oct. 1) - The office of US DOT Sec. Mary Peters announced on the last day of FY 2008 a collection of rail project funding allocations, and the Wisconsin quest for High Speed Rail moved one more step closer to reality.
Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI, click here for Wikipedia description) forsees raising train speeds to as much as 110-mph where feasible, and has been advocated by Wisconsin DOT and eight other Midwest states since 1996. This round of USDOT matching funds will assist Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin among MWRRI states, although most funds are not directly benefitting the long range system plan. Illinois has advanced in some aspects preparatory to raising train speeds, while Michigan Wolverine Service trains operated by Amtrak presently have upped top speed along portions of a potential MWRRI route.
Wisconsin-Illinois Hiawatha Service trains operated by Amtrak remain capped at the same 79-mph applicable for years past. WisDOT receives a funding match to renew a portion of the route, further assuring continuation of reliable on-time train operations.
Train and track safety receives High Green from Congress (Oct. 2 and 4) - Nineteen days after 22 California commuters and three train crewmen died in a head-on collison at Chatsworth due to failure to comply with an absolute red Stop signal, the Senate highballed HR 2095 for speedy enactment into federal law. By a lopsided 74-24 vote, senators approved a sweeping set of changes in the way America's trains will be operated and how Amtrak trains will fit into the overall network of operations. Among the 24 senators doubting the need for safety improvements were long-time Amtrak opponents, apparently preferring unspecified lower cost ways of reinstating a minimum level of travel safety that clearly was not in force earlier in September. Unspecified options not disclosed later have become a hallmark of cost-cutters, who also tend to condemn "earmarks" as the main target for eliminating over-spending. All senators representing MWRRI states were supportive, except Senator Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Senator Bond, R-Missouri, voting against HR 2095.
The "Railroad Safety Enhancement Act of 2008" was introduced under a different title by Rep. Oberstar, of Minn. in May, 2007, and accumulated 94 House co-sponsors, including from Wisconsin Reps. Baldwin, Moore, Obey, and Petri. It initially addressed a ten-year lag in legislation for modern conditions of American railroads, the only national network operated as a for-profit business among industiralized nations. A separate bill addressing Amtrak funding, a recurring basis for controversy during the Bush years, also advanced intermittently during the 110th Congress.
Upon signing by President Bush, a long-time cost-cutter that zeroed Amtrak budgets when first proposed to Congress in years past, Amtrak's annual operating and capital project funding will nearly double. Among the designated capital projects, several directly affect Illinois improvements and one completes in Wisconsin the modernizatin of Milwaukee-Chicago tracks used by Amtrak Hiawathas. Chicago Tribune sketches in greater detail the gains for its several in-state Amtrak routes; click here to read its article. Amtrak carried 28 million passengers during the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, continuing for a sixth consecutive year rising popularity begun under the turnaround measures set by David L. Gunn. The national passenger railroad collected fares topping $1.7 billion in FY2008. Senate action sends it to President Bush for expected approval with the safety measures.
Key safety gains due from its passage include a 2015 completion date for Positive Train Control (PTC) on routes where trains carrying people operate; formal certification for conductors, which already is required of locomotive engineers; and curtailng work shifts that presently push the limits of alertness. The sub-contracted engineer who passed a Chatsworth turnout location that would have prevented the collision was not fighting drowsiness, because he sent a mobile phone text message 22-seconds before impact. But his text messaging activities prior to the collison don't prove the non-union engineer was fully alert, either. Train workers and their unions have pressed for years to reduce "limbo time" and other strains on crew off-duty rest. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has insisted for years that PTC should safeguard train operations on the busier mainline tracks.
America must "move toward a world-class mass transit system" - Sec. Frank Busalacchi (Oct. 10) - The state Dept. of Transportation striving for more than ten years to plan, upgrade and operate trains and tracks in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (which once operating will become a 'System,' the MWRRS) presented a pleased Sec. Frank Busalacchi to news media in Madison, Wisconsin as expectations rose for prompt signing into federal law of the legislation authored by Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) 17 months ago. (See next item, dated Oct. 2) For the capital city, its online Capital Times news source trumpeted the excitement in a heady article proclaiming train travel might return in 2011, an absence of 40 years. Initially, present Chicago-Milwaukee trains will continue Milwaukee-Madison. Expansion to the planned extent of MWRRS will upgrade trains that later connect northwest through Portage, La Crosse, and Winona to the Twin Cities of Minnesota. WisDOT began seeking faster trains for Midwest states while Gov. Tommy Thompson chaired the Amtrak board of directors and overseas railroads, all nationally owned and operated, loaned examples of their everyday fast trains to Amtrak for demonstration tours of American tracks. At American top speeds, which exceed 79 mph only in select corridors, almost all netween Boston-New York City-Washington D.C.
Subsequently, nine Midwest states decided to collaborate on planning for Midwest high speed train travel, the MWRRI, its routes radiating from Chicago, longtime railroad hub and second most-populous American city. Those states and Amtrak grappled with obstacles and the most tenative progress, including a complete turnover in Amtrak's top executive tier and uncertainty among some signatory states. Then Congress in 2005 created a 12-member surface transportation study commission mandated to devise a multi-decade strategic plan to rationalize the jumble of scattered, often-competing agencies entrusted with maintianing and upgrading America's travel and freight transport infrastructure. Ten months ago, the commission issued its findings and recommendations, split between a majority urging emulation of the blend of 'modes' operated among other G-7 nations and a minority content to continue our present heavy reliance on rubber-tired transportation on roads. WisDOT Sec. Busalacchi was among the 9-member majority and seven months ago spoke at Milwaukee to train travel boosters about the recommendations, and unclear prospects for implenting them.
Much as credit is due the study commission, with another Wisconsin native, Paul Weyrich, also instrumental in shaping a set of recommendations more consistent with worldwide multi-modal practice, the insistence for resuming train travel among American travel modes began with Gov. Tommy Thompson. He began it initially just for Wisconsin, linking with Mayor John Norquist, Milwaukee, in a bi-partisan drive (1990-92) to include train projects among all else eligible for WisDOT planning and funding. He then took his fervor for it to Amtrak and Washington D.C. at a time when Amtrak sorely needed to replace its aging Metroliner fleet of fast trains. After the Spanish Talgo (video, Amtrak Cascades trainset), German InterCity Express (I.C.E., video, article ), and Swedish X2000 (photos, article) completed their appearances here (circa 1992-94), Amtrak went about choosing a builder for new NorthEast Corridor 150 m.p.h. trainsets. The resulting Acela Express trainsets by Bombardier-Alston began revenue service late in 2000, and operate only along the 456-mile NEC. Elsewhere in America, only Illinois and Michigan tracks allow passenger trains to operate at more than about half that speed. Advancing from plan to operation across portions of the MWRRS will change all of that.
Milwaukee votes for transit funding (Nov. 8) - Overruling the opinion voiced by the county executive, Milwaukee county voters narrowly favored by a 51 percent majority for funding transit, parks and emerency services with a sales tax increase. Three suburbs and the city of Milwaukee favored the question put to voters; all other suburbs in the county opposed it. County Executive Scott Walker opposed placing the referendum on the November 4 and remains opposed afterward, telling Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "I don't think this is good for taxpayers; I don't think this is good for the economy."
RTA sends required recommendations to Legislature for transit, funding (Nov.14) - Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority (SEW RTA) board members convened Monday, Nov. 10, to complete their tasks assigned in 2005 by Legislature statute. Their 25th meeting, chaired by Kenosha banker Karl Ostby, dealt steadily with remaining issues by splitting off the less populous portion of Racine county and accommodating requests by city of Milwaukee. Once they voted 6-1 to recommend permanence and seek taxing authority from legislators for the two and one-half counties, the board and assembled observers broke into a round of congratulatory applause. Only the vote by Milwaukee county differed from the majority view.
News reports on the milestone meeting appeared in Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha newspapers offering perspectives as varied as the principal cities and counties they serve. City of Racine board member Jody Karls highlighted to the Journal Times the momentous nature of the unifying Board decision, while Journal Sentinel expansively noted legislative study for creating transit authorities generically and noting differing factors within the existing RTA region. Foremost is the ongoing reluctance of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker to band with other RTA governments on the board for consolidating and co-ordinating transit plans due to his blanket refusal to allow any new tax. The RTA recommendation seeks county-by-county authority to levy up to one-half of one percent (five cents on ten dollars) on retail sales, which currently is 5-percent statewide and optionally 0.5-percent (five cents on ten dollars) additional in any county. A special 0.1-percent (one cent on ten dollars) sales tax district encompassing five counties was created amid historic controversy in 1995 to fund a stadium replacing Milwaukee County Stadium. Vocal aversion to taxes also erupted in western Racine county, inducing County Executive William McReynolds to insist on its severance from any further RTA planning, services or taxes.
Bordering Illinois, Kenosha city and county voice the strongest support for the RTA goals of shifting transit funding to a dedicated tax, easing property tax burden, assuring bus service and initiating commuter train service north of the present Kenosha endpoint for Metra Northline trains. Kenosha News quoted both board members for Kenosha and Kenosha Area Business Alliance exceutive director Todd Battle enthused about prospects for advancing public transit, especially KRM commuter trains which Milwaukee ranks second to rescuing its local bus services. Mister Ostby foresees a Kenosha county sales levy one-fifth to one-third of the sales tax narrowly supported by Milwaukee county voters in a non-binding November 4 referendum, if RTA board recommendations are enacted by legislators. Kenosha Area Transit Director Len Brandrup also acknowledges the merit of each county choosing its level of dedicated transit funding, "It essentially allows us, as a community, to say what we want the transit system to be."
In Milwaukee, however, reaction burst forth in separate directions. Some outright oppose any transit funding increase, echoing the county executive's stance. Others, such as Journal Sentinel quoting County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, assert referendum support is distinct from any RTA intentions for a sales tax. Milwaukee voters now seem attuned to the original RTA preference for funding transit with a sales tax, though late in 2006 the tax rate was suggested at one-fourth of one percent (0.25%).
Successive Milwaukee mayors, two county executives and three governors have been unable to reach a spending compromise for more than $90 million designated specifically for county transit capital spending. That tripartite, in turn, was a compromise in 2000 which allocated millions for projects sought locally but blocked by past intrasigence. Milwaukee area battling over expressway routes and construction date back to the 1970s, and a separate long-running battle between the city and surrounding suburbs served jointly by Metro Milwaukee Sewerage District about allocation of expenses among numerous taxing entities -- dubbed the 'sewer wars' locally -- have nurtured a culture of spending gridock, if not indecision.
In contrast, elected officials in Kenosha spoke of uncertainties while the opinion at Kenosha News included another ambitious endorsement three days after the RTA Board vote.
Amtrak record-setting overtakes its CEO (Nov. 14) - Change is the watch word as 2008 completes its last weeks, and it has come again to Amtrak as Alex Kummant submitted his resignation to the Amtrak board, Amtrak announced and several news media reported. Bi-partisan praise for achievements of the past two years, since Mr. Kummant filled the post after abrupt departure of David L. Gunn, emanated from Amtrak Board Chair Donna McLean and Vice-Chair Hunter Biden. Regionally and nationally, Amtrak saw ridership climb steadily during 2007-08, sometimes rapidly at more than five-times past annual growth rates, particularly as fuel costs for personal vehicles more than doubled.
Further change appears certain as a new administration takes charge in Washington D.C. on January 20, 2009 in place of Amtrak-reluctant Bush appointees. As train travel continues improving and expanding, as Mr. Gunn sought during his 40-month Amtrak stint turning the corporation around, as he had previously at Toronto, New York City and elsehwere.
CP Rail Holiday Train setting out on tenth trip (Nov. 25) - Sturtevant will host Canadian Pacific's Holiday Train Tuesday evening, December 9, between•7:00 and 7:30p.m. at the Amtrak depot, just east of Hwy 20 (Washington Ave.). View videos of the train's preparations and its ten years of growing accomplishments at YouTube.
Milwaukee county board committee sides with county executive, doubts RTA recommendations (Dec. 4, updated Dec. 26) - The face-off about transit for Milwaukee county took a turn when Milwaukee County Board's transportation committee voted 6-1 to oppose Nov. 10 recommendations adopted by the seven member SE Wisconsin RTA Board, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel news story. County Supv. Lee Holloway wrote soon after the Nov. 10 RTA board meeting (see previous KenRail item) that he rejected the RTA "carpetbagging" for a sales tax which he and a two-thirds majority of county supervisors submitted to voters in a Nov. 4 advisory referendum. County Executive Scott Walker also has resisted the RTA and also vetoed the supervisors' initial effort to place the sales tax referndum on the ballot; they overrode his veto, 13-6, in early September to place the question on the November ballot.
County Executive Walker pressed his argument against the referendum to the last, declaring late in October that voters should not expect property tax relief to the extent promised by sales tax supporters, Journal Sentinel reported. "The facts show just the opposite." Voters endorsed the Nov. 4 question, 51-49 percent, carried by city of Milwaukee voters and only two suburbs. After the result was tallied, Mr. Walker again held his stance against a sales tax, saying voters were confused by the question.
Ten days later, Mr. Walker's RTA Board representative, George Torres, listed in a Journal Sentinel commentary his points of objection to the RTA and its stated goals. He wrote those were his reasons for casting the only negative RTA vote on Nov. 10. Chairman Holloway expounded further two weeks later in a Journal Sentinel op-ed which asserted different motives for opposing the RTA and its recommendations. He asserted the RTA was needlessly sapping funds badly needed for local transit. Racine and Kenosha should decide independently, Chairman Holloway continued, offering unexpectedly to contract with Racine and Kenosha to operate their bus systems as part of Milwaukee County Transit System. Then Chairman Holloway wrote:
The RTA currently is acting as a "middleman" saddled by administrative costs. Making both our existing bus system and the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line draw from a potential RTA sales tax pits them against each other. The KRM, which would be much more expensive than regular buses, would siphon funds away from existing mass transit, which desperately needs new funding. I would support a legislative package that funds the RTA and KRM through other means while providing Milwaukee County a sales tax consistent with the results of our referendum. Milwaukee County cannot afford to be held hostage while funding for the KRM line is debated.In December 3 debate on the issue of RTA recommendations sent to the governor and Legislature in mid-November, a Milwaukee county board transportation committee member took RTA board member Julia Taylor to task for not sufficiently representing Milwaukee county interests, Journal Sentinel reported. She is City of Milwaukee's representative to the RTA, appointed by Mayor Tom Barrett; Mr. Torres is the Milwaukee county representative on the RTA board.
President-elect Obama hears from passenger train boosters (Dec. 30) - Change is coming, in three weeks the Obama-Biden transition team pledges as a host of concerns circle and squawk for immediate attention. For discouraged homeowners and ill Americans unable to afford health insurance, those concerns are imperative needs.
For commuters and travelers, for energy savers and environmental watch dogs among the million-plus site visitors to change.gov in its first 24 hours soliciting Round Two questions, the foremost concern is whether or not transit and intercity rail projects will command the funding necessary for expansion. Currently, all other G-7 nations rely more on trains than the USA for commuters and travel distances too short for cost-effective air travel. The Obama-Biden campaign repeatedly assured voters that, if elected, it would bring better balance among bus, car, plane and train 'modes' for commuting and travel. Almost two months after Election Day and only 21 days until Inauguration, all indications are that voters will see fulfillment on that campaign pledge.
Reinforcing the nation's readiness for modern, 21st century transportation, a letter sent jointly by Amtrak, the States for Passenger Rail Coalition, Surface Transportation Policy Project, AASHTO's Standing Committee on Rail Transportation, Association of American Railroads, Natural Resources Defense Council, Railway Supply Institute, and American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association to President-elect Obama urges freight rail support in any economic stimulus and recovery proposal to Congress. The letter is reported by Progressive Railroading magazine.
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