RTA Begins Work
submitted by Jennifer Alexander, President, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and Thrive

The newly created Dane County Regional Transit Authority (RTA) meets for the first time on March 4. The public is encouraged to actively participate in discussions about the scope, cost and deliverables of an integrated transportation system designed to provide regional transportation for workers, visitors, and residents. These decisions are not just about addressing our present transit needs, but also planning where we will be 50 years from now.

Currently, the only way municipalities can provide shared transit services are through intergovernmental agreements. While these agreements allow for municipal cooperation, they lack stability in both funding and service. With an RTA there is a permanent commitment that municipalities will share and collaborate for services in the future. This adds certainty, which allows for better cost projections and allocation of services.

The ability to expand services will be an ongoing challenge as our population grows. Dane County continues to rank among the fastest-growing counties in the state and much of that growth is coming from areas outside of the City of Madison. Since the 2000 Census, the City of Verona has grown in population by 45.6 %. On the East side of the County, the Village of Cottage Grove grew by 36.5%. Looking to the future, the Department of Administration predicts Dane County to grow at a rate of nearly 50% by 2035. Neighboring counties like Jefferson and Sauk are forecasted to grow by at least 30%.

The only efficient way to accommodate this rapid growth is through shared, cooperative management of transit services. Determining what that system looks like is the starting objective of the RTA.

Discussion of new services must be coupled with scenarios that include basic improvements to our current infrastructure, including expansion of a regional bus system. Public skepticism of new services is expected and understandable. Especially in difficult economic times, voters must be fully informed and convinced that their investment is worthwhile.

In addition to transit-specific information, the cost and economic impact must be clear. This will require a thorough, independent economic analysis of different transit scenarios before proceeding with a public referendum. The public needs to understand the effect of capital costs and operating expenditures on the regional economy, the impact on jobs and income, the user and environmental benefits and the overall public return on investment.

As a result of these remaining questions, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on commuter rail or other new transit modes. Thrive agrees and understands the work of the RTA is not just about Dane County or exclusively mass transit. It’s also about how all of our region’s transportation infrastructure interfaces with an RTA including highways and interstate as well as freight and intercity passenger rail.

It is encouraging that we’ve come this far. As we move forward, let’s be open-minded and embrace the opportunity to collaborate and make our infrastructure more efficient and equitable. The RTA has a difficult but important task that will have a significant impact on our daily lives and shape the long-term economic potential for the region.

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