In today’s Journal Sentinel there is the following editorial: A vital link in the region

Once again this mentality has my blood boiling!

Here are the reasons why they feel we need the METRA extended to Milwaukee:

  • We're part of Chicago
  • There is a Metra stop in Kenosha now
  • Some Illinois folks are even buying condos in downtown Milwaukee
  • A rail link could create economic development opportunities
  • Kenosha shows how a rail link can help spur growth
  • Could help reduced traffic congestion on I-94

I’ll take these points one at a time.

“We’re part of Chicago” is the worst reason to fight for a METRA line I have ever heard. Yes, there are a lot of people from Illinois moving to Wisconsin but as they move here why are we encouraging them to continue to work and play in Chicago. Wouldn’t it make more economic sense for Wisconsin to encourage businesses to move north across the border than for us to continually send our work force south of the border?

To further illustrate this point of our workforce heading south if we take a look at recent Census data we find that the daytime population change in most of the communities with a METRA station to be negative: Kenosha losses 8.9% of their population; Winthrop Harbor -41.6%; Zion -22.1%; Waukegan -5.3%; Glencoe -3.5%; Winnetka -0.9%; Wilmette -13.2%. The populations are headed to Chicago, which sees a daytime population increase of 4.9%, and the Naval Base, which sees a daytime increase of 30.3%. Where do you think people in Racine, Caledonia, Oak Creek, Bay View, etc. are going to go?

“There is a METRA stop in Kenosha now.” Yes there is, but there is also an Amtrak stop in Kenosha, Sturtevant, and Milwaukee. So what is your point? If this discussion was about brining economic development to the community by way of jobs and additional businesses we might be on to something but the facts are far from it. METRA is not a net positive gain to the community. Has METRA brought in the businesses or has proper planning and development of Kenosha done that?

“Some Illinois folks are even buying condos in downtown Milwaukee.” People from Illinois have been buying property in Wisconsin for decades now. Head out to Lake Geneva and take a look at who owns most of the city! Should we extend the METRA service out there too? These folks have chosen to live here so why would we try to convince them that it is better to work in Illinois? Should we not be trying to encourage their business to move here as well? Think of the boom Milwaukee and the surrounding communities could have if we spent our vital resources on trying to find a way to move businesses here instead of trying to make it easier for employees to commute south!

“A rail link could create economic development opportunities.” Well let’s take a look at a true test of this: Amtrak. Has there been economic development in areas where Amtrak has stations? Sometimes there has and sometimes there hasn’t been growth. I think Milwaukee is fooling themselves and the surrounding communities by dangling this carrot out there. Yes there is a potential for development but the development is not directly tied to the METRA just as there is no direct tie to Amtrak.

“Kenosha shows how a rail link can help spur growth.” Really and how is that? Kenosha has had the METRA line for a very long time. In fact the METRA line was there when Chrysler went out of business. The METRA was there when, to be very blunt, Kenosha was nothing but a dried up old factory town. So how can one say the METRA was the key factor in spurring growth? I could just as well say that the METRA line was the reason for Kenosha being what it once was. Kenosha’s redevelopment is due in large part to the people of Kenosha and their elected officials who saw that there lake front was a place that people would like to live, work, and play. They are working hard to create this environment and I feel that giving credit to the METRA for this growth is misplaced.

“Could help reduced traffic congestion on I-94.” You bet! Just look at how well the trains system has helped Chicago! This is a non-starter. You will be hard pressed to prove that there would be any significant reduction in traffic on I-94. Based on current projected estimates of rider-ship none of us will notice any difference in traffic.

Now there are a couple of issues that the JS editorial staff did not deal with.

  1. There already is a commuter rail system that connects Milwaukee and’s called Amtrak. Amtrak has a number of stops between these two large cities and has done little to increase economic development. But it continues to bleed the taxpayers of our hard earned money.
  2. Stemming from my first point the “new” METRA line would come into Milwaukee and end at the Amtrak station! So what would the benefit be to Milwaukee? Amtrak currently isn’t running anywhere near 100% capacity so why would we want an additional train coming into Milwaukee? The proponents point out that METRA is cheaper! So once again we need a little common sense…if METRA and Amtrak are both doing the same thing and the costs are about the same but METRA is cheaper; THAN THAT MEANS IT WILL COST THE TAXPAYERS MORE TO RUN!!!!!

The Journal Sentinel editorial staff missed the mark on commuter rail but I am afraid that many people including our elected officials think this is a good idea. Do us all a favor call your elected officials, tell them that we have a commuter rail system that is bleeding us dry, and that we do not need another.

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