KRM rail plan elicits heated debate

BY JOE POTENTE, Kenosha news

A key to the future development of the region, or a waste of taxpayer money?

Opinions run the gamut, when it comes to the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail link.

The 33-mile project, known as KRM, would restore passenger rail service from Kenosha to Milwaukee that has been missing for nearly two generations.

But it would also come with an estimated $232.7 million price tag, and uncertainty about whether ridership and ancillary development projections will ever come true.

Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman is one who sees both sides. While he believes KRM would encourage development in the eastern part of Kenosha County, the area has managed to live all this time without trains to Milwaukee, Bosman said.

“If it happens, I support it,” Bosman said. “If it doesn’t happen, we’ll go on without it.”

The debate of KRM has made for unlikely political unions.

Business groups, such as the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, and large corporations, such as S.C. Johnson and Roundy’s Supermarkets, have joined forces to support KRM, arguing for its economic development potential.

Christopher Beard, director of public affairs for SC Johnson, said the company strongly believes KRM would be a wise investment in the long-term future and economic health of the region and state. The company already supports its Illinois-based employees with daily shuttles between its Racine headquarters and the Metra station in Kenosha.

“Detailed studies over a decade have shown significant mobility, economic development, and employer-related benefits would accrue from KRM commuter rail in Racine and other communities along the route,” Beard said in a written statement to the Kenosha News. “Studies also consistently indicated that there are no better solutions to fill the transportation gap along this important corridor.”

Republicans in the Legislature — and some Democrats, too — have dug their heels in, refusing to support any tax increases that might come with KRM.

State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, said members of the business community and liberal backers of transit must realize there is not an unlimited pot of money to pursue KRM and other transit initiatives.

Not naming names, Vos accused some corporations of pushing for the train because it is beneficial for their business model, without regard to taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

“I think that there are some that are doing it out of genuine concern and I respect them,” Vos said. “But there are others who are doing it out of pure greed.”

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