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KENOSHA-RACINE-MILWAUKEE

With infrastructure money from American Jobs Plan, a Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train could be revived

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RACINE — Twice over the past 15 years, headlines from The Journal Times have read “KRM is dead.”

KRM is the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train. However, as Congress considers a new infrastructure bill, perhaps the third time could be the charm.

The City Council voted Tuesday to approve a resolution of support for the construction of KRM commuter rail line.

In the past, supporters of KRM attempted to have the project funded through the state. But the American Jobs Plan has local leaders looking to federal dollars that could complete the project.

President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan is a $2.7 trillion spending plan heavily linked to infrastructural projects involving broadband internet, transportation, manufacturing, jobs training and tax credits for clean energy. Congress continues to mull the massive proposal, with Republicans appearing largely opposed; U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil called Biden’s plans a “spending spree” last week.

Mollie Jones

Jones

Alderman Mollie Jones, the chairman of the Public Works and Services Committee, was an enthusiastic supporter of the proposal during committee discussions. She noted what a great opportunity it would be for Racine.

At the closest point, the city’s borders are 4 miles away from Interstate 94, and Downtown Racine is closer to 8 miles from the I. However, most cities with equal to or greater than Racine’s population either have an interstate running through them or have one much closer. Despite its downtown being situated along Lake Michigan like Racine, part of the City of Kenosha (along Highway 50) is intersected by I-94.

As such, commuter rail could be a driver for population growth in Racine, since it would be easier to live here but travel farther south, as far as Chicago, for work.

“I remember when the train used to run from Racine to Milwaukee to Kenosha to Chicago when I first came to Racine,” Jones said, remembering the North Shore line that shut down in January 1963. “And I think that would be great if we were able to get the rails back again.”

During Tuesday’s council meeting, all 15 aldermen asked to be listed as co-sponsors of the resolution.

Locomotive passed through Racine County on Friday, July 26, 2019. It is shown here along Willow Road. It traveled through Racine County around 9:30 a.m. 

Jung says the time is now

Trevor Jung

Jung

Alderman Trevor Jung proposed the resolution at the PW&S Committee meeting on May 25, noting the “exciting work” that is going into the discussions on the country’s infrastructure.

He pointed out the Biden administration has made a commitment to infrastructure. Infrastructure is a key component of the American Jobs Plan, he noted.

Additionally, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is a particular supporter of commuter trains and many in the federal government have gotten serious about commuter rails, Jung added.

“This is a unique opportunity for us as a community to be out ahead, to make sure that we voice our support for this fundamental infrastructure that could change the way the City of Racine engages in the region,” he commented.

Challenges and opportunities

Jung pointed out that Racine is in a region that is the third largest economic region in the United States and the tenth largest in the world. Yet, it is the largest municipality in the region that is at least 4 miles from an interstate in the Midwest. That is the challenge.

Jung argued a commuter rail would allow the city to better connect to the region.

“We’re currently on an island,” he said, “and don’t have access to (regional opportunities) based on the current infrastructure.”

Jobs

The construction of the KRM would provide jobs to the region, but it would also open up employment opportunities for Racine residents.

The resolution noted that a commuter rail and regional connectivity would help address one of the region’s most pervasive issues: “the stark disparities in socioeconomic measures between Black and white residents, such as household income, education attainment, unemployment rates, and home ownership.”

It is just difficult to get ahead without transportation and the cities of Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha have populations without reliable transportation on average that is twice the regional average.

That same area has traditionally struggled with higher unemployment and lower income levels than the regional average, as well.

A regional rail service would open up the possibilities, connecting Racine workers to over 7 million jobs within the Milwaukee/Chicago metropolitan region, the resolution noted.

“This is about jobs, this is about opportunity, and this is about equity,” Jung said.

According to data provided by Jung, Amtrak’s Hiawatha Line between Milwaukee and Chicago is the busiest route in the Midwest and had a 9% increase in riders from 2014-2019 — demonstrating the regional demand for a commuter rail.

“This is a win, win, win,” Jung said.

KRM

The KRM website remains online for archival purposes. Data from the website goes back to the 1990s, a sign of just how long having a modern commuter rail across the region has been under discussion.

The website outlines the lengthy attempt to attain state funding, which ultimately failed.

However, there are also public outreach support showing the tremendous support the KRM had at the time.

Adam Rogan of The Journal Times contributed to this report.

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