By James Wigderson for Media Trackers
Waukesha Common Council President Aaron Perry and Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton recently collaborated on an op-ed that appeared at OnMilwaukee.com celebrating a new spirit of cooperation between the two cities as a result of the deal allowing Waukesha to purchase Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee. However, Perry and Hamilton might have carried that new spirit of cooperation too far for Waukesha County residents.
For example, there’s no reason why we cannot have a regional approach to transportation needs. With the huge level of investment we are seeing (Foxconn, Downtown, Bucks arena, etc.) in developments and infrastructure, we must strategically adapt our transportation system appropriately or face new problems.
In that vein, we also hope to begin a serious discussion about a future rail system that can move workers and citizens efficiently throughout the region. Minneapolis, St. Louis and Atlanta are just a few of the large cities and regions with commuter rail systems in place and working well. We are excited about our economic and job growth, but we have to be able to get to point A and to point B in an efficient way. Why not here?
However, Perry’s ambition for regional transit would face tough opposition in Waukesha and would receive little political support.
When asked if the city of Waukesha had any discussions with Waukesha County, Milwaukee County or the city of Milwaukee regarding regional transit, Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly replied with a simple, “no.”
Shawn Lundie, chief of staff to Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, was even more blunt. Lundie was also asked if the county had explored a regional commuter rail plan with the city of Milwaukee or Milwaukee County.
“No, Paul Farrow would like to remain the Waukesha County Executive,” Lundie replied.
Regional light rail was last seriously discussed when John Norquist was the mayor of Milwaukee and Tommy Thompson was the governor of Wisconsin. After Thompson declared that no state funds would go to fund light rail in Milwaukee, the dream of connecting Milwaukee to Waukesha came to an end, in large part because of opposition from Waukesha County and the Milwaukee County suburbs who were expected to pay for the light rail system.
The federal funds were re-purposed to improving the Milwaukee County bus system and to help build Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s streetcar.
Plans to create commuter rail serving Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha were effectively ended when the Republican-controlled legislature effectively killed Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) in the 2011 budget bill. While there has been talk of bringing RTAs back because of transportation needs for Foxconn, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has said it is unlikely to happen.
“The first time (Democrats) tried to put this through, they were not successful, even when Democrats controlled everything,” Vos told the Racine Journal Times. “There’s been such strong opposition to an idea like this, I can’t imagine it moving forward since I’ve had almost no one from my district say that they want to have unelected taxing authority.”