» Compromise between feuding political forces resolved by U.S. Congress.
I wrote in early February that Milwaukee was studying how to improve its transit options with the Milwaukee Connector study, which would survey public support for a variety of public transportation improvements, including streetcar and bus rapid transit lines. The conflict over which transportation mode to pick had raised a significant dispute between Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who advocated bus rapid transit, and Mayor Tom Barrett, who wanted streetcars. The city has $91 million in reserves from the federal government, whittled away from a $289 million grant first awarded back in 1991, which it can take advantage of whenever it’s ready.
Now, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl (D) and Representative David Obey (D), who is also the chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, inserted a provision in the omnibus bill requiring 60% of the $91 million in funds to go to the city for a rail system and 40% to go to the county for buses. The newspaper framed the spending plan as a defeat for Mr. Walker, because his level of jurisdiction will get less money and the streetcar that he opposed will be built. But the insistance of the congressmen that money be distributed all around and for both types of transit seems like a fair compromise for an issue that has been in question for 17 years.
Unfortunately, the release of the $91 million will not solve all of the funding issues for the city’s transit system: it won’t be enough to allow for the full implementation of the 3-mile streetcar loop, whose final route has yet to be set. It also won’t be enough to assure the greater bus rapid transit network that Mr. Walker had proposed. As a result, local transit advocates will continue their support of a new source of revenue for transit in Milwaukee, which will likely include a half-cent sales tax, that notoriously unreliable funding mechanism. The state legislature will have to act to get such funding put into effect.