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Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008

Light Rail Still Makes Sense

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Recently, the Reason Foundation released a study encouraging transit authorities to promote more express buses in the area instead of funding the proposed KRM (Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee) light rail system. The study claims that express buses would better serve commuters, and that projections of increased property values along the KRM line are inflated and unrealistic. The study was seized upon by light rail opponents and opponents of mass transit in general.

My belief is that light rail should be expanded for reasons both economical and ecological. I propose that in addition to the KRM line, additional rail lines should be constructed connecting the city to the northern and western communities as well, perhaps as far north as Sheboygan and as far west as Oconomowoc.

First, the economical reasons for light rail development. It is no secret that the economy is shrinking, and by all accounts, things are going to get a lot worse. While it is true that current gasoline prices are favorable, does anyone really expect that to last very long? It is a safe bet that gas will gradually go back up, and we will soon be paying $50 dollars to fill our cars once more. Maybe not next, year, but certainly in the near future. I think it is not unreasonable to assume that the number of commuters using mass transit will rise accordingly.

Light rail would benefit job seekers. If I was an unemployed individual minus a car seeking work, my options would be pretty much limited to the local bus lines. With a comprehensive light rail system such as they have in many other communities, I would then be able to realistically look at jobs in Kenosha, or Delafield, etc.

The presence of light rail would also open up possibilities for new businesses. Many businesses, both large and small, choose to locate in the proximity of the labor supply. If a light rail system were in place where previously there was none, entrepreneurs could consider locating their shops in more remote areas (where tax rates might also be more favorable), and not have to worry about workers being able to get to work efficiently.

As a sidebar - let me also remind the reader that construction of the light rail system would employ hundreds, if not thousands of Wisconsinites, and bring millions of dollars into the state.

Admittedly, it could be argued that more extensive bus routes could serve the same purpose as light rail. This brings me to what I see as the ecological advantage of rail.

With any new development, an environmental impact statement is generally required. Opponents of rail will argue that the construction of rail lines takes up a lot of land, much of which may be privately owned and which would need to be purchased through eminent domain laws. They argue against unsightly rail lines running through pleasant, quiet suburbs, bringing noise pollution. I would argue that light rail would take additional gas-belching autos off the roads, contributing to cleaner air for everybody!

Finally and regrettably, I must question the real motives of those opposed to light rail, who seem to be located in the outlying, affluent suburbs. Is there a chance that they are happily ensconced in their homogenous surroundings, and just can't stand the thought of poor, (perhaps not white!) people coming to work in or through their communities?

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