The merits of using taxpayer money to fund county buses (or trains, or light rail, or what have you) could be debated forever.
What's not that debatable is that Oak Creek is quite under-served when it comes to the Milwaukee County Transit System, and that doesn't help a city trying to redevelop not one, not two, but three major areas in town.
Not only are new routes not proposed, current routes like the South Shore and Ryan-College freeway flyers could go away, making bus service even more scarce in Oak Creek than it already is.
"I look at the Delphi property (7929 S. Howell Ave.) and think to myself, 'We need a bus line over there that would bring people in,'" Mayor Dick Bolender said.
So far, that wish has gone unfulfilled. Any out-of-towners wanting to shop at a redeveloped Delphi would have no choice but to drive there. Service on Howell Avenue, one of the city’s main commercial corridors, is limited south of .
And that's not all.
27th Street, another major commercial street and redevelopment focus, has no service whatsoever apart from a small portion south of College Avenue.
Buses also don’t reach Fifth Avenue and the Oak Creek lakefront.
Bolender has been frustrated about the inability to get service of any significance in the city. Drastic budget cuts over the years to the county's transit service, at both the state and local level, have made expansion an after-thought, as transit supporters desperately try to keep current routes in place.
"Nobody from Oak Creek benefits from bus service," Bolender said.
It doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better. The county's proposed budget for 2012 will be deliberated later this year, and more steep transit cuts have been proposed.
Bolender says he has asked county officials numerous times to extend routes into Oak Creek, but is told consistently that it's just not possible.
"Famous last words – 'No, we can't do it,'" he says.
On the east side of town is the South Shore Flyer, which runs east on Ryan Road, then up the South Shore and over the Hoan Bridge.
The Ryan-College Flyer, meanwhile, picks riders up at the park-and-rides at Ryan Road and College Avenue before heading north on Interstate 94 and into downtown Milwaukee.
In the face of a $6.8 million reduction in state aid, both of those routes, and all other freeway flyers, would be cut under the proposed Milwaukee County budget.
County Supervisor Pat Jursik, who represents the South Shore and a small portion of Oak Creek, has strongly opposed such a move. Many constituents in her district use the flyer to go downtown, and companies rely on it so employees can get to work, she said.
"Talk about anti-economic development," Jursik said. "This is the worst thing you could do."
Jursik says she is fighting to keep the route intact and working to find money for it in the 2012 budget.
Whether she will be successful remains to be seen. Even if she is, it's likely that the cost to ride will go up.
"We're just going to lose some major parts of our transit system," she said, "to the point where we may just be serving the central city."
Certainly, a lack of any discernible public transportation in Oak Creek isn't necessarily a death blow for the 27th Street, Delphi or lakefront redevelopment plans.
Oak Creek, both commercially- and residentially-speaking, has grown substantially in the last decade despite it. Perhaps in the place where "city meets country," the almost-zero transit system is something that falls under the "country" category.
But developing those properties in this economy is hard enough as it is, and the city needs all the help it can get. The fact that the lakefront is still a mess after all these years is testament to the difficulty.
So while poor transit may not be a death blow, it doesn't exactly help, either.