Has Scott Walker Finally Found a Way to Kill the Milwaukee Streetcar?

Building a streetcar in a Midwestern city without rail transit is political bloodsport. As Cincinnati can testify, something about the threat of adding rail transit to a city that doesn’t have it really agitates some elements of the Midwestern right wing establishment.

Will state Republicans sink the Milwaukee Streetcar? Image: 620WTMJ

In Wisconsin, Republican state lawmakers already did their best to kill the Milwaukee streetcar, back in the 1990s, under Governor Tommy Thompson. But those efforts were thwarted when representatives of the city of Milwaukee lodged a successful civil rights complaint through U.S. DOT, securing hundreds of millions of dollars for a Milwaukee transit project.

But James Rowen at the Political Environment reports that as the project is nearing construction, rail-hating state officials may have found a way to sabotage it without violating their consent agreement with the feds. Republicans on the state’s budget committee have proposed a rule that would prevent the cost of construction from affecting utility bills, a move the Journal Sentinel said would “likely would kill the project” as it approaches the utility relocation phase.

Rowen says Governor Scott Walker is trying to appeal to his talk radio base, at the expense of the state’s largest city:

Just as Walker obeyed city-fearing, suburban-focused talk radio and denied the two largest state cities a federally-funded Amtrak line – - and the state a spot in a regional rail network connecting cities with major university and research center employers – - Walker continues to marginalize Milwaukee over the streetcar plan.

It’s the city he learned to hate when he had to come into to work as County Executive in its downtown  everyday – - and wants to keep it its urban job poll hemmed inside, and access in and out congested with endless freeway work, and the city wedded to an antiquated, cash-starved (by Walker’s budgets) and-shrinking bus transit system.

This is what the talkers and their suburban base want: a stultified city with no new fuel-efficient, clean-burning, greener and hipper transit alternatives.

The Walkerites talk a good game about attracting and nurturing entrepreneurship, and stimulating business creation, and accelerating corporate recruiting, but many younger creative people who might come to Milwaukee would be leaving modern cities where local rail and good train connections in-and-outbound are routine.

The utility relocation phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar project was also politicized, as was every phase of the project.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Better Institutions reports that unlike Amtrak, air travel just received another hefty subsidy, without any political dust up. Cyclelicious explains how cycling is being used to empower people with physical disabilities. And UrbanReviewSTL says St. Louis is considering repairing the area around some urban interchanges by rebuilding the street gird.