Republicans Move to Kill Milwaukee Streetcar
If the streetcar is killed and federal money for it is lost, it will mean the total amount of federal transit money for Wisconsin rejected by Scott Walker will exceed $1 billion.
In a move that should have seemed an obvious possibility from the moment Republicans took control of state government, the state budget is being used as the vehicle to stop the Milwaukee Streetcar project. Ignoring an on-going, established process to litigate utility relocation costs, Republicans on the budget-controlling Joint Committee on Finance have passed a budget amendment put forth by Rep. Dale Kooyenga that would require the City of Milwaukee to pay all utility relocation costs as part of the Milwaukee Streetcar project. Despite the fact that the utility costs would have been nowhere near the bandied about $70 million figure, the budget amendment will virtually eliminate the city’s ability to build the project by ceding power to the utilities.
The challenge before the Public Service Commission came from conservative think tank leader Brett Healy of Oconomowoc (filed as a private citizen). Healy’s claim centered on the notion that, as a ratepayer, if the utilities had to paid to relocate their lines for the project he and other We Energies customers would be picking up the tab. While that may be true, it’s also true that Milwaukee customers pay when Oconomowoc rebuilds a street. Equipment relocation is just a fact of life for utilities, but they also get to put their lines and equipment rent free in the streets.
Every public infrastructure project goes through negotiation with utilities, with negotiations reducing the cost-burden to utilities to be as small as possible. The $800+ million Marquette Interchange (built literally above a power plant) had an initial quote of $120 million for utility relocation, but through planning and negotiation the cost ended up at $23 million.
If the cost for utilities was the issue, these companies would be leading the charge on this issue, rather than Healy and other opponents of streetcars and “choo choo trains,” as detractors like Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling like to call such transit options. Why Republicans, who claim to be focused on job creation, want to stop an economic development and transportation project in the largest job center in the state comes down to three simple things. Who is proposing it, where it’s happening, and what it rides on. If a Democrat proposes anything in Milwaukee that rides on steel wheels Republicans are against it.
Wisconsin Republican’s Anti-Rail History
Light rail from downtown Milwaukee to Waukesha? Republicans at the state killed it.
Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail? Republicans at the state killed it.
Extending the Amtrak Hiawatha Service to Madison at 110 mph (with stops in Brookfield and Watertown)? Republicans at the state killed it.
Rebuilding the train shed at Milwaukee Intermodal Station? Republicans rejected federal funds to fix the non-ADA compliant shed and are now left with a situation that will cost Wisconsinites millions.
A streetcar starter system in downtown Milwaukee? Republicans killed it.
The common link? All the projects were proposed by Democrats, had a presence in the City of Milwaukee, and involved steel wheels on steel rails.
Since becoming Governor in 2010, Scott Walker will have effectively rejected over $1 billion in federal money for rail transportation projects. The loss of high-speed rail funds to connect Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee represent $823 million. The KRM funds would have been at least $140 million. Assuming Walker (who has made clear his opposition to the Milwaukee streetcar) ultimately supports the amendment proposed by the Joint Finance Committee, he will also be rejecting $54.9 million for the Milwaukee Streetcar, which is the last of a $289 million 1991 federal grant.
Conservative Cities and States Plow Ahead
Wisconsin’s anti-rail Republicans are an increasingly unusual group compared to many of their peers. Salt Lake City, Utah continues to plow ahead with expansion of their light rail and commuter rail system (started when Mitt Romney was their running the Olympics). Charlotte, North Carolina continues to expanding their extremely successful light rail system. Dallas is building a streetcar system, expanding their light rail system, and looking to add a commuter rail system. Atlanta, Georgia is building a streetcar system, despite unresolved utility issues. Cincinnati, Ohio is building a streetcar system. Tuscon, Arizona is building a streetcar system. Phoenix, Arizona opened a large light rail system. Kansas City, Missouri is moving forward with a streetcar system. See the complete list of projects at Reconnecting America.
Density and Milwaukee
Milwaukee’s position as the densest American region without fixed rail transit seems safe and secure. By the Census Bureau’s preferred measure of density (population-weighted density), the Milwaukee region is the 15th densest in the country at 5,257 residents per square-mile. Within two miles of Milwaukee City Hall there is an average density of 14,615 residents per square-mile. Portland, a city with a streetcar system the one in Milwaukee is planned after, has a regional population-weighted density of 4,372 per sq/mile, and a density of 8,023 per sq/mile within two miles of City Hall. Despite what transit opponents say, Milwaukee is a very dense city. If rail transit requires density to work and rail transit works well in Portland, rail transit should be a huge success in Milwaukee.
Population data from the United States Census Bureau.
Yes, the City of Milwaukee could still move forward with the project, but utilities hold all the cards in terms of what needs to be replaced and what doesn’t. We Energies CEO Gale Klappa will deserve every dollar of his paycheck if he’s able to make the City of Milwaukee replace his company’s aging equipment with new equipment.
Many of the previously mentioned cities are certain to be looking to get their hands on Milwaukee’s federal transportation money. Much like other states were thankful to receive Wisconsin’s high-speed rail stimulus funds, some city is likely to be thankful to get the second leg of their streetcar starter system underway with money originally designated for Wisconsin.
Milwaukee County Transit Cuts Loom
The effective cancellation of the Milwaukee Streetcar project isn’t the only bad news for transit in Wisconsin. After staving off a 10% cut in state aid during the last state budget cycle with one-time federal funds, the Milwaukee County Transit System is poised for a massive service cut in 2014. The Joint Finance Committee has not signaled an intent to restore the previous 10% cut, meaning MCTS and other systems across the state will continue to scramble to find ways to sustain service. The Milwaukee region continues to be the densest region in the country without a dedicated funding source for mass transit.
More about the Milwaukee Streetcar
For more information on project details, how the operator will be selected, what the vehicles will be like, and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.
- Eyes on Milwaukee: County Gets Waiver on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 17th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Rails Being Welded - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 7th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Won’t Delay Streetcar for County - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 28th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: County Board Okays Bid for Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 23rd, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Steel Has Arrived - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 16th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Should County Operate Streetcar? - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 8th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Construction Starts in April - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 17th, 2017
- Streetsblog: 80 Transit Projects in 2017 - Angie Schmitt - Feb 6th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: The Milwaukee Streetcar is Hiring - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 20th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Project Receives Federal Grant - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 12th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Cincinnati Streetcar Opens - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 19th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Okays Streetcar to Bucks Arena - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 6th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: $6.5 Million in Streetcar Savings - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 26th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Donovan Lies About Streetcar Suit - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 15th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: BID Sells Streetcar-Related Development - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 15th, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: Do Millennials Oppose the Streetcar? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 15th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Pennsylvania Company Wins Streetcar Contract - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 13th, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: City Accepts $14 Million Federal Streetcar Grant - Michael Horne - Oct 29th, 2015
- Back in the News: Anti-Streetcar Petition Dies - Bruce Murphy - Aug 28th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Scott Walker Aids Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 13th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Construction Starts in October - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 10th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: The Strange Politics of Anti-Streetcar-ites - Bruce Murphy - Jun 18th, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: Bucks Plan Envisions Arena Streetcar - Michael Horne - Apr 8th, 2015
- A Short History of Milwaukee’s Old Streetcar System - Ken Smith - Mar 31st, 2015
- Plenty of Horne: Davis Sets, Cancels Meeting on Streetcar - Michael Horne - Mar 17th, 2015
- Back in the News: Anti-Streetcar Petition Drive Fails - Bruce Murphy - Mar 5th, 2015
- Friday Photos: Streetcar Signing Is Quite a Celebration - Michael Horne - Feb 13th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Milwaukee Streetcar Approved - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 10th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Who is “Lobbying” For the Streetcar? - Bruce Murphy - Feb 5th, 2015
- Data Wonk: Will Streetcar Help The Inner City? - Bruce Thompson - Feb 4th, 2015
- Back in the News: City Attorney Says Streetcar Petitions Might be Moot - Bruce Murphy - Jan 30th, 2015
- Data Wonk: Millennials And The Streetcar - Bruce Thompson - Jan 27th, 2015
- Op-Ed: Why I Support the Streetcar - Russell Rossetto - Jan 26th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Responses Shows Wide Support - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 22nd, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Approved, but Held - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 21st, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Koch-Funded Group Backs Anti-Streetcar Drive - Bruce Murphy - Jan 20th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Backers Say They Have the Votes - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 20th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Who Is Funding the Anti-Streetcar Effort? - Bruce Murphy - Jan 20th, 2015
- Op Ed: Why the Streetcar Won’t Work - Samuel Jensen - Jan 14th, 2015
- Murphy’s Law: Will Anti-Streetcar Referendum Succeed? - Bruce Murphy - Jan 9th, 2015
- The Story Behind the Streetcar Referendum - Michael Horne and Bruce Murphy - Jan 8th, 2015
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Delays Streetcar Until January - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 16th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Committee Takes No Action on Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 10th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Committee Approves Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 9th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: RACM Approves Tax Funding for Streetcar - Michael Horne - Dec 2nd, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: How to Sell the Streetcar - Michael Horne - Nov 28th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: Next Stops For The Streetcar - Michael Horne - Nov 24th, 2014
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Moving Forward With Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 18th, 2014
- Plenty of Horne: Who Will Be Streetcar Operator? - Michael Horne - May 8th, 2014
- Back in the News: A Streetcar Named Cooperation? - Dave Reid - Apr 27th, 2014
- Streetsblog: How a Streetcar Spurs Development - Angie Schmitt - Nov 3rd, 2013
- Plenty of Horne: Streetcar Social - Michael Horne - Sep 12th, 2013
- Republicans Move to Kill Milwaukee Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - May 9th, 2013
- Plenty of Horne: Mayor Says Streetcar is “Trojan Horse” - Michael Horne - Apr 17th, 2013
- Streetcar Meeting on Tuesday - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 29th, 2012
- Donovan’s New Anti-Streetcar Allies - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 16th, 2012
- Battle of the Bobs: Donovan vs Bauman Streetcar Press Conference - Jeramey Jannene - May 18th, 2012
- Milwaukee Streetcar Hearing at Frontier Airlines Center - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 15th, 2011
- Important Hoan Bridge and Milwaukee Streetcar Meetings this Week - Dave Reid - Nov 14th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Passes Common Council, Proceeds to Final Engineering - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 26th, 2011
- Alderman Donovan Proposes Delaying the Streetcar Project - Dave Reid - Jul 19th, 2011
- Barrett says Streetcar is an investment in growing Milwaukee - Patti Wenzel - Jul 13th, 2011
- Keep the Milwaukee Streetcar Moving Forward - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 8th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar at Apex - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 16th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Takes Key Step Forward - Jeramey Jannene - May 6th, 2010
- Streetcars and Trams Around the World - Dave Reid - Feb 1st, 2010
- Milwaukee Streetcar Meeting This Thursday - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 5th, 2009
- Downtown Streetcar Open House - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 23rd, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Routes Unveiled by Mayor Barrett - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 21st, 2009
- Common Council Creates Streetcar Committee - Dave Reid - Jun 18th, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Round-Up - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 19th, 2009
- Vote For Your Favorite Milwaukee Streetcar Route - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 25th, 2009
- Design Your Own Streetcar Route - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 23rd, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Map - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 21st, 2009
- Streetcars Coming to Milwaukee - Dave Reid - Mar 14th, 2009
- Palomar or Streetcar? - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 22nd, 2009