MILWAUKEE'S STREETCAR: Troy, Michigan shows way, rejecting tea party | Wis.Community

MILWAUKEE'S STREETCAR: Troy, Michigan shows way, rejecting tea party

[img_assist|nid=129409|title=Future MKE streetcar|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=177|height=133]

The City of Milwaukee continues to fight for the right to use federal funds awarded to it for a new downtown streetcar loop, but remains stymied by conservative and corporate opposition. It's as when Gov. Scott Walker rejected the $810 million federal grant to build a high-speed passenger train route between Madison and Milwaukee; now, other Republicans are still trying to kill the city's streetcar. Walker started that fight as Milwaukee County executive and then moved on to the statehouse, leaving his pals behind to keep impeding progress. They've joined already to destroy the proposed KRM intercity commuter rail service linking Milwaukee with Chicago.

Meanwhile, public utilities including WE Energies and AT&T are holding up the Milwaukee project, demanding tens of millions of dollars from the city for relocating underground utility lines. These are lines that are in the public right of way. That is, the pubilc and the city own those pathways and the companies pay not a dime for their use. But they want the city to fork over nearly as much to them for allowing the streetcar project to proceed as it would cost for the entire rest of the project.

Some days being a progressive pushing rational, economically positive infrastructure improvements is like being tormented by the Greek gods. But across Lake Michigan, another city is showing us how to get around these little impediments. And it was worse, there, because unlike Milwaukee, where Mayor Tom Barrett champions the streetcar system, Troy's mayor is a tea party candidate who actively opposes the system.

The online Grist environmental magazine explains how the Troy situation spun out, and it should sound quite familiar to people trying to develop light rail transit in Wisconsin:

Consider the case of Troy, Mich., an affluent suburb 10 miles outside Detroit, where Tea Partiers last night got spanked in a fight over public transit.

In November, Troy elected Tea Party activist Janice Daniels as mayor, and put two other Tea Partiers on the city council ... . Daniels again made national headlines by leading the Troy city council in rejecting $8.5 million in federal funds to construct a rail-based commuter transit center.Daniels and the new Tea Partiers on the city council voted against approving a key contract for the center, which had been in the works for a decade, despite objections from the business community and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. Their official explanation seemed to be that our nation is too far in debt to be throwing money around, and that it would be irresponsible to take the cash (although they gave no indication that they’d say no to federal money for roads) ... .

But a funny thing happened on the way to this particular Tea Party celebration. Project supporters scrambled to present a scaled-back version that would require about $6.3 million in federal money, winning strong support from the Troy Chamber of Commerce. At a meeting last night, one council member  on the contract, clearing the way for the project to proceed.

The Milwaukee situation is different than the Troy case. For one thing the project is an order of magnitude larger. But also, in Troy you had wingnuts in charge of the city trying to stop rail, whereas in Milwaukee the city's elected officials are solid behind the streetcar and it's forces from suburbia, corporate behemoths and state government that are trying to derail a sensible and -- in other large cities routine -- development.

Published

January 19, 2012 - 10:43am

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