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Leaders agree to push for Metra

They will lobby for rail line extension

By LARRY SANDLER
Posted: Dec. 22, 2004

Top political and business leaders agreed Wednesday to form a unified front to push for extending Chicago's Metra commuter trains from Kenosha to Racine and Milwaukee.

47853Metra Extension
Background
12/21/04: Leaders to discuss extending Metra line
8/24/04: Madison, Milwaukee rail plans proceed
6/10/04: Agencies work on Metra extension deal
10/25/03: U.S. Senate OKs money for interchange, Metra line
9/30/03: Region's officials favor Metra link
8/8/03: Panel advocates Metra line extension

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They have yet to agree, however, on how to pay for the $152 million project.

"There's a clear movement to go get it done," said Bob Mariano, chief executive officer of Roundy's Inc.

That means elected officials will join business executives in lobbying Gov. Jim Doyle and legislative leaders to support the project and in brainstorming about funding options, Mariano added.

Mariano is the chairman of the regional transportation committee of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, which called city, county and business leaders from Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties to a closed-door breakfast meeting at Milwaukee's University Club.

The leaders agreed commuter rail could help the region grow and compete with other metropolitan areas that already have rail transit, said Mariano and Patrick Curley, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's chief of staff.

Barrett joined Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, Racine County Executive William McReynolds, Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian and state Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) at the meeting, while Racine Mayor Gary Becker, Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl and Sen. Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) sent aides.

Among the business leaders present were Dennis Kuester, chief executive officer of M&I Corp.; Fred Luber, chief executive officer of Super Steel Inc.; and Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

A Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission study committee has recommended running the 33-mile rail line on existing freight railroad tracks, with stops in downtown Milwaukee, Cudahy, South Milwaukee, Oak Creek, the Town of Caledonia, Racine, the Town of Somers and Kenosha.

Next month, city, county and state officials plan to sign an agreement to start preliminary engineering, the final two-year phase of study on the line, which would run seven round trips each weekday and three each Saturday, Sunday and holiday.

While some members of the group have strong feelings about some of the options to pay for the line - ranging from regional gas or sales taxes to state funding to privatization - they agreed to leave all options on the table until they can study how other areas finance similar systems, said Mariano, Curley and GMC President Julia Taylor.

Becker has floated the idea of a regional one-cent-a-gallon gas tax, drawing opposition from Walker. On Wednesday, a Walker aide referred questions to Taylor and Sheehy.

The group also will work together to set up meetings with Doyle and legislative leaders, Mariano said.

Doyle's administration has supported the commuter rail studies but has balked at the study panel's recommendation that the state Department of Transportation run the line and pick up any costs not covered by federal aid or fares.

Business leaders believe commuter rail will help the region grow by giving people more choices "to live, work and play wherever they want," Mariano said. That has long been a major factor driving Racine-based S.C. Johnson Inc. in its support for the train line.

"I've seen it work in Illinois," added Mariano, who lives in Lake Forest, Ill., and rode Metra trains to class when he was a University of Chicago student. Suburban downtowns "just blossomed as a result of the Metra stations," he said.



From the Dec. 23, 2004, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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