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Dane County executive candidates sound off on the RTA and transportation policy

As part of its coverage of the campaign for Dane County executive, Isthmus is asking candidates a series of questions about governance. Eileen Bruskewitz and Spencer Zimmerman did not respond to this week's question, and no word limit was given for the responses.

Last year, proponents of new mass transit options scored a victory with the creation of a Regional Transit Authority in Dane County, but then suffered a blow when Scott Walker rejected funding for a high-speed rail link to Madison. With the rising price of gasoline, transportation issues are likely to remain a high priority for years to come. Do you support commuter rail for Dane County? What should the county government do to deal with transportation issues and infrastructure? Should the government invest in one mode over another and if so, which mode and why?

Zach Brandon

Do you support commuter rail for Dane County?
Now is not the time. Governor-elect Walker just sent $800 million back to the federal government that would have built a high-speed rail connection from Chicago to the Twin Cities linking through Wisconsin. This makes the chances of our county receiving federal support for another variety of rail virtually zero. And a majority of Dane County voters outside Madison and Fitchburg also rejected a commuter rail referendum.

We need to focus our efforts on projects with tangible economic and workforce development benefits, feasible funding sources and local support. Given our current economic climate, there are many urgent needs facing Dane County and pressing issues requiring our civic attention. Commuter rail is not one of them.

What should the county government do to deal with transportation issues and infrastructure?
Helping Dane County residents get to work should not be limited by municipal borders. When I first ran for Madison alder in 2003, I championed the creation of a Regional Transit Authority in the League of Women Voters questionnaire. I believed then, as I do today, that expanding our transit service area and diversifying the funding sources are essential ingredients for successful economic development in Dane County. It makes no sense when a Metro bus passes through Monona or Fitchburg without opening its doors to pick up workers headed downtown. And it is bad for economic development.

We must now streamline regional planning so that transportation and development decisions are made in a comprehensive, coordinated way. Dane County currently has three non-elected bodies -- the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC), the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board (MPO) and the Dane County Regional Transit Authority (RTA). Each works independently on highly related issues with no meaningful coordination.

A truly progressive approach unites where people live with their transit and transportation needs. Dane County and its municipalities need to get serious about density. Transit only works when sufficient density occurs.

Should the government invest in one mode over another and if so, which mode and why?
Yes. We must create a truly regional bus system and we must improve our county's roadways in a systematic, strategic way. I made the amendment to remove any preference to rail from the Madison Common Council's resolution supporting the RTA, because bus-only lanes and "bus rapid transit" enable buses to offer rail-like service along major routes where rail itself is not practical.

For this and other reasons we must also continue to invest in our county's roadways.

I recently toured Wisconsin with a large manufacturer of a clean technology looking to invest $200 million and hire hundred of workers at an average of $20 an hour. We toured two areas of the state. One was Dane County. While the final decision has not been made and I will continue to fight for this project, the company told me and the local officials that the roadway access to the Interstate, particularly the county highway, was "unacceptable."

We need to focus on cost-effective, efficient and environmentally friendly transit and transportation options that move the region's workforce and the products and services they provide.

Scott McDonell

I authored the Regional Transit Authority legislation, so yes, I support a modern, multi-modal transportation system for Dane County and South Central Wisconsin. Dane County is growing fast and traffic is just going to get worse and worse. With thousands more cars on the road in the next 10 years, we need to make efforts now to offer commuters more options to prevent future traffic headaches. Our transit system should include carpool lanes on our highways and an expansion of Madison Metro bus service to provide quality public transportation to all of Dane County, while the Regional Transit Authority should continue to work toward a high speed and commuter rail system. As our community grows, we must address the pressure being put on our streets and bus system to ensure that our county continues to prosper in a sustainable way.

Joe Parisi

Transportation issues are important to build a strong economy, and they shouldn't be put on the back burner. Stopping high-speed rail in Wisconsin meant stopping a golden opportunity at economic development and job creation in our area. It's a mistake we can't afford and shouldn't allow to happen again.

I voted to create the Regional Transit Authority in the state legislature. I believe that the county must have a balanced approach to transportation -- one that includes mass transit, para-transit, bicycles and roads. And I believe that commuter rail should be a part of that approach. Now we have a mechanism in place that can make commuter rail a reality if the needed approval and funding is made available and the people of our community agree with that plan.

This balanced approach must also be a regional approach. I want to gather input from citizens and leaders on all levels of local government, inside and outside of Madison, so that we can make smart choices and use our limited resources wisely.

Joe Wineke

Everyone agrees that we need to get serious about reducing traffic congestion and its environmental impact -- and get smarter about development, overall, in Dane County. And most citizens understand that we'll need additional development of our transportation infrastructure to make all that happen.

When the rail line connecting Madison to Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities was still alive, local rail could have been a key component in a wide variety of transportation infrastructure development efforts in Dane County. But given the recent Scott Walker-prompted death of the high-speed rail line, we've also lost many of the potential benefits -- including the reduction of congestion and potential economic development -- that commuter rail may have provided. We've also yet to see a firm plan as to where the proposed trains would stop, how often they'd run, who would ride them, how much they would cost, etc. This combination of factors makes it very difficult to say "yes" to commuter rail for Dane County at this time

What should the county government do to deal with transportation issues and infrastructure? Should the government invest in one mode over another and if so, which mode and why?
We expect Governor Walker to push for drastic cuts in state aid for local government. And he has already promised serious cuts to our state workforce, along with significant pay and benefit reductions for government workers whose jobs do remain. Combined, these factors may have a serious, negative impact on our local economy -- across both the public and private sectors. In short, local government budgets will be extremely tight, and county taxpayers are unlikely to be able to shoulder any additional tax burden to increase revenue.

In an era of shrinking resources, we have to get back to basics -- and our first transit priority must be to maintain our existing infrastructure. That means repairing our crumbling bridges and highways, filling pot-holes, resurfacing roads, etc. Should our economic forecast become brighter than expected, we can explore additional options to reduce congestion and improve our overall transportation infrastructure.

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