RACINE — The city is on track to study the cost of extending Metra commuter rail service from Kenosha to Racine.
Under a proposal approved 15-0 by the City Council Tuesday, the city would spend up to $30,000 from its intergovernmental revenue-sharing fund to hire a firm to complete the study. Funded by dollars Racine receives each year from neighboring communities via the sewer service agreement, the fund is intended to help Racine spark development within its borders.
Making his pitch for the study to members of the city’s Redevelopment Authority last week, Mayor John Dickert said connecting Racine to Chicago via the Metra rail line that currently ends in Kenosha was imperative to transporting workers, travelers and investors from Chicago to opportunities and amenities in Racine, while also giving residents better access to the Chicago job market.
It’s also key to redeveloping the State Street corridor, where the Metra rail line would stop, he said.
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Dickert said with train service people could work in Chicago and live in Racine for one-10th the price they could there.
Interim City Development Director Matt Sadowski said the city would look to hire a transportation consultant who could look at the 2009 study performed for the ill-fated Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail proposal and look at how much it would cost to implement just the Racine to Kenosha leg.
Several aldermen voiced support of the study during the meeting, although some said they were concerned about the cost.
“It seems to me that public transportation, and in particular a rail system that goes to Chicago would be critical to a city like ours that is trying to grow and rebrand,” said 12th District Alderman Henry Perez.
Several members of the public also spoke in favor of funding the study, including former 11th District Alderman, Greg Helding, who currently sits on the RDA board.
Helding said he wasn’t going to tell people that bringing Metra to Racine was going to result in factories coming to the city, but he said it would help the city’s economy by providing access to northern Illinois.
Tammy Hayward, former president of the Racine Interfaith Coalition, said extending Metra to Racine would have “huge benefits” for the county as a whole.
The last time the City of Racine studied the possibility of extending commuter rail to the city was about four years ago. The KRM commuter rail proposal, which called for extending Metra rail service to Milwaukee, was ultimately derailed by the state Legislature in mid-2011 after it had initially sparked strong public interest as well as opposition.
The study determined it would take about $207.5 million in capital costs (in 2007 dollars) and $10.35 million in annual operating and maintenance costs to provide commuter rail service between Kenosha and Milwaukee, with stops – and in some cases new stations – in Racine, Caledonia, Somers, Oak Creek, South Milwaukee, Cudahy/St. Francis, the south side of Milwaukee and Downtown Milwaukee.
A 2009 financing plan for KRM suggested that 57 percent of the capital costs be funded by federal grants, with the remaining 43 percent funded by the state.
Asked what the city and other supporters of the project would do if the state Legislature balked at helping to funding a project extending Metra to Racine, Dickert said last week, “we will cross that bridge when we get there.”