Aaron Olver: Better transit is key to keeping Madison strong, tackling challenges

Aaron Olver: Better transit is key to keeping Madison strong, tackling challenges


Madison’s economy is thriving. We feel it here at University Research Park in Madison: Vacancy is reaching historic lows. Mallinckrodt, a pharmaceutical company, just completed a successful phase-three clinical trial of its StrataGraft regenerative tissue. And we are busy building the headquarters symbolizing innovation for Exact Sciences, the maker of the noninvasive colon cancer test called Cologuard.

Madison is gaining 3,000 residents per year, adding over a half-billion dollars of annual construction, and churning out companies in high-growth industries such as biotechnology, digital health, diagnostics and software. Our city is routinely ranked as one of the best places to live, visit, raise a family and start a business. We’re even ranked the nicest city in America and the fourth best beer destination in the world.

But growth brings challenges. Madison’s housing supply has not kept pace with population growth. This has led to escalating rents, businesses struggling to recruit the talent they need, and persistent racial disparities. Though we treasure our lakes, Madison’s unique geography compounds these issues by concentrating jobs and residents on the narrow Isthmus with limited space for roads and parking.

A modern and efficient transit system will help move our region forward.

That’s why Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s MetroForward initiative, announced earlier this month, is so important. It prioritizes bus rapid transit, or BRT, which is an essential economic development investment vital to our future prosperity.

Here are three reasons why investing in BRT, a high-frequency, high-capacity, limited-stop bus service, must be a critical economic development priority:

  • Workforce mobility.

People need to be able to get to work. Ask a Madison business owner or executive to name his or her top challenge right now, and most will tell you it is recruiting and retaining good employees. Madison’s combination of rising housing costs and less-than-robust transit options are twin obstacles that physically disconnect people who need jobs from businesses that need employees.

University Research Park is lucky to have one of Madison’s bus transfer points, but more is needed. Creating capacity to move high volumes of people from our more affordable neighborhoods into and through employment areas such as the UW–Madison campus, our Downtown and University Research Park will create a vital economic artery, supporting businesses, students and residents alike.

  • The potential to catalyze investment.

BRT will create opportunities for transit-oriented neighborhood development along its routes. We’re already planning one such development here at University Research Park to help unleash innovation.

With thoughtful planning that engages the surrounding neighborhoods, BRT will help foster high-quality affordable housing, new employment and needed services in neighborhoods flanking BRT routes. This will not only support these neighborhoods, it will create more tax base, reducing the property tax pressure on existing homes and businesses.

  • Talent attraction and retention.

To stay competitive and maintain our renowned quality of life, Madison needs to continue to start and retain the high-growth companies that fuel our economy. It also must recruit the talented workforce those companies need to grow.

Your favorite Madison restaurant, coffee shop or boutique retailer likely depends on Madison continuing to grow its base of high-growth, high-wage technology sectors. And in today’s knowledge-driven economy, a modern transit system plays an important role in attracting the 21st-century workforce and connecting it with everything Madison has to offer.

BRT has many environmental and social benefits. Investing in BRT also is good for business. Madison has explored various higher-cost transportation ideas over decades.

BRT is both a sensible and feasible choice. As Madison continues to grow, the time has come to make a long-term investment in an efficient, cost-effective transit solution that focuses on serving the needs of residents, better mobilizing our workforce and supporting our companies.

Investing in BRT is the right decision for our economy.

Olver is Managing Director of University Research Park in Madison: universityresearchpark.org.

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