Via a reader, the article is about Madison, Wisconsin, but it could be about anywhere. The author highlights at least three issues with the plans:
- Unelected tax authority
Dane County, for instance, plans to fund its transit authority with a half-percent sales tax. Members of the RTA board were told by the officials who appointed them to put the tax to voters in a referendum, likely next fall.And if the voters say no? In theory, said County Board member Al Matano, a key RTA backer, it means no funding. But "it's not on our list of things to worry about," he told me.
Why should it be? The legal fact is the tax needs no referendum. Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed that part of the transit authority law. Struck it right out. The decision is solely up to an unelected RTA board.
"Quite honestly, they don't need (a referendum), legally," said Dave Ripp, a County Board member who doesn't favor the RTA. "And if it fails, they don't have to follow it."
- Obsession with trains over more affordable solutions
Quite a few wonder why Madison, with 480,000 people and short distances, needs the expense of trains. Buses are much cheaper. They can go more places, and you can afford to run them more frequently. "We actually support buses," said Richardson. "They're very flexible."
"The main thing that worries me, and I'm not the only one," said Susan De Vos, head of the Madison Area Bus Advocates, a riders' group, "is that people put in rail at the expense of the existing transit system, and that's the bus." That's how things worked elsewhere, such as in Los Angeles, said De Vos. When train plans inevitably outstrip revenue, the money comes from cutting back the unsexy part of the system. She favors a series of limited-stop express "bus rapid transit" lines for a fraction of rail's cost.
- The real focus is on rigid government control of development (ie the Portland model)
"Their agenda really isn't about transportation," as Dane County Towns Association President Jerry Derr put it to a reporter. "It's about land use. They want to build a rail system so they have a reason to force all new development to within a half-mile of the rail corridor." Surely he exaggerates? No. The commuter rail plan's founding document lays out the rationale thus: "Goal 1: Promote Efficient Land Use/Develo
Sounds like a another great town (Madison is really a great place from my experience) is about to be screwed up, just like Portland has.