Mayor, County Executive Unveil Agreement on Regional Transit for Madison, Dane County

June 27, 2007

Roads, rail, bus, bikes included in proposed system

Madison - Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk today unveiled their regional transit authority agreement - a jointly proposed all-purpose transit system to answer the significant transportation challenges that come with a growing population countywide.

"Dane County is growing more than any other Wisconsin county - 60,000 people per decade, Falk said during today's news conference at the City-County Building. "There are 100,000 people coming into the city every day of the week. There needs to be a better way to keep all these people moving.

"Today, after a lot of productive discussions, the mayor and I are pleased to unveil our shared vision to join our roads, rail, bus, paratransit system and bicycle routes into a single transit system for tomorrow," Falk said. "This is a way out of congestion."

Cieslewicz said their transit proposal is a "comprehensive response" to the needs of a growing population in an area known for its natural resources and quality of life.

"If current trends continue, we're looking at 100,000 more vehicles coming to Dane County over the next two decades. In order to keep our economy strong and our quality of life high, we need to act now," the mayor said. "We need to give commuters options and alternatives to congested roads, we need to repair our existing roads faster and we need to strengthen our bus system. This agreement is all about protecting our environment and improving our business climate.

"It will increase transportation options, preserve our quality of life, encourage good land use policies and protect the environment," Cieslewicz said. "There are many steps that still must be taken before this vision becomes a reality, but the importance of today's announcement is that the County Executive and I agree on the roadmap of how to achieve that vision."

Governed by a countywide Regional Transit Authority (RTA), the system would provide for a modern, convenient, and affordable transportation system that includes roads, rail, bus, paratransit and bicycles. Subject to creation of RTA enabling legislation at the state level and federal funding, Falk and Cieslewicz would work to get the regional system operating within five years.

Falk and Cieslewicz said their agreement does not guarantee these improvements will occur.

"There is a lot of work to do," Falk said. "We have to refine our plans for rail-based services and find the right technology for our improvements. We have to win federal funding for our system. We have to persuade the Legislature and Governor to allow us to create an RTA. Our citizens will decide if the sales tax is the right way to fund these transportation improvements."

Cieslewicz added, "We now have the opportunity to pursue improvements in local transportation that will improve our citizens' lives now and help our communities grow in more affordable and convenient ways."

The agreement includes the following key elements:

- The new parts of the regional system would be rail- and bus-based. It would serve the needs of commuters and those who need to move throughout the metropolitan area for employment, shopping or recreation.

- The Transportation 2020 application for federal funds for the preliminary engineering for the first phase of this system will be submitted this summer. This phase will provide rail service from Middleton through the Isthmus to the East Towne area.

- The next phases of the regional transit system would focus on Park Street, from the Kohl Center to the Beltline, and on improving the commutes of workers, in addition to the movement of shoppers, residents, visitors, and university students, staff and faculty throughout the Madison downtown.

- A single type of vehicle and technology will be sought for all of the rail-based aspects of the regional transit system.

- Falk and Cieslewicz will work with the Legislature and Governor to approve the framework of an RTA during this legislative session and, if possible, as part of the state budget. An RTA provides representative, balanced governance for a comprehensive, multi-modal transportation system and an effective, affordable way of financing these improvements.

- The countywide RTA would include a one-half cent sales tax, devoted exclusively to transportation. Creation of the sales tax would be subject to approval of the RTA enabling legislation by the state, and to a countywide referendum. The sales tax revenues would be used to help offset transportation costs that are currently being supported by property tax revenues.

"This is a key breakthrough," said Dane County Board Chairman Scott McDonell. "The regional transit proposal unveiled today helps move forward the Transport 2020 application for federal money."

"This agreement paves the way for a unified, balanced approach to our regional transportation needs," said Madison Common Council President Mike Verveer. "It will benefit our entire region, and help us grow our economy and preserve our quality of life."

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The agreement has four parts.

A SYSTEM

- One comprehensive, countywide, regional transit system.

- Provide transportation infrastructure to the entire region through enhanced bus service, commuter rail, bike transit systems, countywide paratransit services and road maintenance.

A GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE

- The Mayor and the County Executive are agreeing to work together with the Governor and the Legislature to craft Regional Transit Authority enabling legislation that would allow for up to a half-cent sales tax.

- The Mayor and the County Executive will work to pass resolutions outlining this agreement in the Madison Common Council and the Dane County Board of Supervisors.

A FUNDING MECHANISM

- The Mayor and the County Executive are also committing that any sales tax proposal would go to the citizens for a countywide referendum and would be contingent on receiving federal transit funds.

- Revenues from the half-cent sales tax would be portioned to support transportation improvements for every corner of Dane County:

- Bus service for Madison and surrounding communities - 25%
- Town, Village, City and County road maintenance - 25%
- Commuter rail - 33%
- Rail/Bus Enhancements/County-wide Paratransit/Bike Transit - 16%

NEXT STEPS

- Work with the Governor and the Legislature to authorize the RTA.

- File the New Starts Application for Transport 2020 with the Federal Government at the end of this summer.

- Pass the intergovernmental agreements to form the RTA.

- Receive Federal funding.

- Ask citizens to decide if the sales tax is the right way to fund these transportation improvements.

Contact:
  • George Twigg (Mayor Cieslewicz), (608) 266-4611
  • Joanne Haas (County Executive Falk), 608-267-8823