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Editorial (WSJ 11-10-07) and Response

SUN., NOV 11, 2007
Response to WSJ Editorial

In Saturday's Wisconsin State Journal there is an editorial about the Regional Transit Authority. Buried in this editorial I found the interesting statement, “Alternatives such as expanded bus service or road construction may prove even more costly.”

On the face of it, this statement seems to have been written to convince me that pouring money into the potential rail project is the most affordable way to upgrade our transportation infrastructure.  But if you consider how money is spent in our county and how many citizens that money actually benefits, then the statement takes on a completely different meaning to me.  If we pour money into better roads, then virtually all of us will benefit because at one time or another we will all be traveling on those roads. 

Studies and real-life examples keep reminding us that the vast majority prefer to travel in their own car.  In contrast, citizens repeatedly say they will not travel any other way.  When you consider lines at every single train crossing, the looming gridlock that the editorial writer acknowledges, you can only conclude that diverting money to a fixed guideway system will deny needed upgrades everywhere else.  That will make the problem worse. 

Michael B.
Dane County Resident

SAT., NOV 10, 2007
Close rift over regional transit
A Wisconsin State Journal editorial

Maintaining the status quo in Dane County 's transportation system is a sure path to gridlock, not only for commuters but also for the region 's economy. 

That's why representatives from around the county ought to focus on resolving disagreements next week so they can move forward on regional transportation solutions. Representatives will meet Tuesday in the first of two sessions on regional transportation organized by the Regional Economic Development Entity, or REDE. The meetings are aimed at defining a process for moving ahead.

The meetings are occurring after a plan to pursue commuter rail as a regional solution suffered a setback. Rifts opened between rural, urban and suburban communities in response to a plan to help finance the line by creating a regional transit authority empowered to impose a sales tax.  The meetings arranged by REDE should allow participants to move past the rancor to reach a consensus on what to do next. Here are four considerations that participants in the talks should keep in mind.

Regional means regional. Madison should appreciate the suspicion that a regional transit authority, or RTA, with taxing power would benefit the city at the expense of the rest of the county. Any organization set up to create or administer a regional transportation system ought to have support throughout the county. That means it should give rural as well as urban areas influence and tangible benefits.

No region thrives around a decaying core. In almost every town, village and city in the county, more residents commute to work in Madison than work anywhere else, including their home community. Consequently, it 's in all of Dane County 's interest to keep Madison healthy and commute times short.

Commuter rail is an option worth pursuing. The county's projected growth means that by 2020, roads will be clogged in ways that cause costly delays and discourage businesses from locating or expanding here.

After studying transportation options, a Transport 2020 committee -- including representatives from Madison, Dane County, the state and UW-Madison -- produced a plan for a commuter rail line connecting Downtown Madison with Middleton and Sun Prairie, with future extensions possible. Federal aid, if granted, would help to fund the line, expected to cost more than $230 million.

Alternatives such as expanded bus service or road construction may prove even more costly. Agreeing on the make-up and powers of an RTA would not imply final endorsement of a commuter rail line.

There will be opportunities to reject commuter rail if it fails cost-effectiveness tests. The current goal is only to pursue commuter rail as an option. But first the region must identify a local manager and source of money.

An RTA with taxing power is the likely choice. Creating an RTA requires authorizing legislation from the state, and the best way to get the Legislature to act is for county representatives to agree on terms for an RTA.

Dane County should move ahead on a regional transportation solution. That means: Aim for consensus.


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