Not a surprise that a Milwaukee Common Council committee took a pass this week when asked to okay the streetcar extension sought by Mayor Tom Barrett.
“The Hop” is his love, but it's a fatuation several aldermen and others around town DON'T share (I use all caps there because that's how loud some of the streetcar's foes are when they tell you it's a waste of money that could be spent on other needs).
A blog I penned a few days ago addressed some of this: how we can't allow ourselves to take a pass on doing “nice” things while major problems go unaddressed. I suggested the Mayor use the same creativity being used to pay for Hop extensions (not just the Wisconsin Avenue one, but others for Bronzeville and Walker's Point, too) to come up with a way to pay for obvious needs like potholes, the thought being that you can't make a pitch for an alternate transit service when the one used by most of us (streets) is in disrepair. Creative use of TIF money will cover a lot of the Hop tab, so why can't Barrett and others find a way to make sure there's cash to repair what winter predictably does to our traffic grid every spring? Potholes aren't a shocker–they're as sure as a 40 degree May high temp in these parts. The Mayor's lament about needing more state/federal funding for roads predates him by decades. Predecessors bemoaned the lack of shared revenue from Madison as Milwaukee sat, hat in hand, waiting for Daddy Warbucks to drop a few 20's on it.
Some council members see this week's vote as a chance to make pitches for community needs–Russell Stamper wants funding for the central city. That's fine. The Hop vote is a chance for pitches to be made, backs to be scratched. That's politics.
Hop advocates say a streetcar route is its own economic reward, bringing steady streams of potential customers wherever the rails may take them. Still, tracks don't naturally grow in streets and new train cars cost money. The Hop's largest flaws are a) the fact it doesn't go to enough destinations and b) it'll cost scads of cash to change that.
Council members have about a week before there's another vote on the Wisconsin Avenue street car route. Do they have the moxy to work up a fix to make sure the extension happens, that a short list of central city needs get met?
While they're at it, maybe they can find a way to creatively fund street repairs, too, one that doesn't involve Madison or Washington largesse. All of that would make The Hop an easier sell to at least some of it's detractors or, at the very least, to the drivers busting axels and losing hubcaps.