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Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Railroaded on commuter rail

Going Green, Government / Bureaucracy, Transportation

http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/36210564.html

 

New study questions commuter rail line

But author was positive on KRM project in June, business leader says

A new study by a libertarian think tank claims the projected economic benefits of a proposed Milwaukee-to-Kenosha commuter rail line have been inflated and questions its ridership estimates.

But a business leader noted that the author of the study, Los Angeles-based transit consultant Tom Rubin, took a far more positive view of the $200 million project in June, when pro-transit business leaders were pushing the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority to hire him as the authority's consultant. And a regional planner said the commuter rail projections were sound.

The Reason Foundation study, being released today, says the transit authority should consider express buses as an alternative to the KRM Commuter Link, which would connect downtown Milwaukee and the southern suburbs to Racine and Kenosha with 14 round trips each weekday.

Rubin said his latest study wasn't meant to bash the KRM, but to highlight the advantages of bus options.

"We're not saying that KRM is a dumb idea and it should be dropped," Rubin said Monday. "I am not saying that KRM is going to fail. I am saying there are other options that should be studied before you make that commitment."

Rubin's report criticizes a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study that projected property values would rise 10%, or $2.1 billion, along the rail route. He said that came out to $568,000 for each daily round-trip rider, a figure he called "obviously far-fetched."

Ken Yunker, deputy director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, said the UWM figures were based on development along other commuter rail lines, including Chicago-area Metra routes that carry fewer riders than KRM's projected 1.7 million a year.

Rubin's study also finds inconsistencies in KRM ridership forecasts, which he said indicate that either the ridership is overestimated or the service wouldn't be enough to handle all the riders. Yunker said the projections had been extensively reviewed and approved by federal transit officials.

Busing considerations

The study notes that KRM planners ruled out express buses along a route similar to the trains, but didn't consider express buses on I-94. Rubin urged consideration of that option, which he said would better serve riders farther from the Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha downtowns.

But in June - when he had been paid $30,000 by the Milwaukee 7 regional development alliance and was seeking a $50,000 contract from the regional transit authority - Rubin said the KRM would work better than any bus alternative because it would serve lakefront communities that are miles from I-94. The new study concedes that distance would be a disadvantage for I-94 buses.

Six months ago, business leaders argued that Rubin's standing as a conservative rail transit critic would give the transit authority more credibility among Republicans who then controlled the Assembly. But the authority's seven-member board couldn't muster the required six-vote supermajority to hire him.

The new study is more consistent with Rubin's previous work and other Reason Foundation studies, which typically oppose light rail and commuter trains and push buses instead.

Pete Beitzel, a vice president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, suggested Rubin's opinions depended on who was paying him.

"The think tank guys got real mad at him when he said it (the KRM line) was a good idea," Beitzel said. "Apparently, they hired him to change his mind."

Rubin denied that, saying his work was based on careful study. He said his earlier work was a study of Milwaukee County Transit System finances that touched on the KRM, and this study focused on the KRM.

To read the entire Reason Foundation study on the KRM, go to www.reason.org.

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