Presenting the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission’s proposals at a public forum Wednesday, SEWRPC’s Eric Lynde offered multiple scenarios because, he said, “There’s a lot of flux, in terms of funding” over the next five years.
Several dozen residents filtered through the Corinne Reid-Owens Transportation Center on Wednesday, taking in posters and packets on the proposed alternatives. Those interested in commenting wrote out their thoughts and dropped them in a marked box. Others listened to a half-hour’s worth of information presented by commission project leader Lynde.
That public input will get weighed and added to the commission’s proposal before it goes to Racine County and the City of Racine later this spring, Lynde said.
Funding in flux
Moving forward, federal funding is especially uncertain, Lynde noted. State funding is flat, at least in Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget, which also proposes transferring mass transit funding from the protected transportation fund to the general fund, putting it in the same pot as school aids, Medicaid and other publicly funded services.
According to the governor’s budget, the move is designed “to further strengthen the relationship between user fee revenues and investments in transportation infrastructure.”
But it has some, like City Administrator Tom Friedel, worrying about the long-term funding forecast for mass transit in Wisconsin.
According to Friedel, it makes sense for public transportation like buses and shuttles to receive funding from a dedicated source like state transit aids, rather than compete with other public projects in the general fund.
The Wisconsin League of Municipalities, which lobbies the state Legislature on behalf of Racine and other cities, agrees.
“As long as the dollars are there, it doesn’t matter,” noted League Executive Director Dan Thompson. “But reading between the lines, this looks like it could well, over a period of years, it could signal reduced support for transit from the Wisconsin Legislature.”
The governor’s budget has yet to be finalized, and the state Legislature could still make significant adjustments. In the interim, Thompson said the League will most likely lobby to keep mass transit dollars out of the general fund.
In the short term, the city is well-positioned to realign existing bus routes and even save money by running more efficiently under the commission’s proposed model, according to City Transit Manager Al Stanek.
It’s a project that’s been under way for the past two years and represents the first major route adjustment in about two decades, Stanek said. It will likely go into effect later this summer, pending City Council approval.
At the county level, however, County Executive Jim Ladwig said there is no dedicated timeline, in part because while the city is revising exiting routes, the county would be creating new public transit options under the commission’s proposals.
And with federal funding fluctuating and state contributions currently supposed to stay flat, Ladwig said that he’s not looking at investing increased local tax dollars unless citizens or businesses demonstrate a real need.
“Is it something we’re actively pursuing at this point? No,” said Ladwig. “But if we can identify the need, and if ridership is going to be there, we will.”
Currently, Health and Human Services Department Director Jonathan Delagrave said the county is eyeing the commission’s proposed shared-ride tax and shuttle programs, and considering the funding viability of a commuter route that would connect Milwaukee with Racine and Kenosha County.
Whether it’s federal or local tax dollars, Ladwig said, the county will likely spend judiciously on transportation, saying “We still have an obligation to use peoples’ tax dollars appropriately.”
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
Fax: (262) 547-1103
Mail: Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission
W239 N1812 Rockwood Drive
P.O. Box 1607
Waukesha, WI 53187-1607
Comments will be received and considered through March 15.
See the proposed transit alternatives online at www.sewrpc.org/racinetransitplan