Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Streetcar Construction Starts in October

On-going engineering work continues to save millions of dollars. And anti-streetcar group has given up trying to stop the starter line.

By - Jul 10th, 2015 05:48 pm
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The streetcar as it meets Broadway in the Third Ward.

The streetcar as it meets Broadway in the Third Ward.

Not a single track has been laid, but final engineering work has already reduced the utilities relocation bill on the Milwaukee Streetcar project by over $1 million. During a streetcar task force meeting Friday morning project consultants Tim Clancy of The Concord Group and Ashley Booth of HNTB detailed their firms’ work on negotiating with the utilities and procuring the vehicles.

More work between the engineering team and We Energies has been finalized, and more than $1 million reduction in costs was realized from minor route modifications as well as swapping E. Wells St. for E. Kilbourn Ave. and relocating north-bound tracks to N. Jackson St. from N. Van Buren St.

Now that the route is locked in, pending expected federal approval, design work is beginning on the overhead contact system. That work is expected to be completed by November, with contracts for construction of the system awarded in January 2016. Construction would start in April and be completed by February 2018. Following final testing, the general public could start riding the system in July 2018.

Construction work on the utilities will begin in advance of the track and overhead wire system, with design work being completed next month for the public utilities. Contracts will be awarded for that work in September. The first streetcar project shovels will go into the ground in October. The utility work is expected to be completed in August 2016.

Bids have been received for the streetcar vehicles. The consulting team declined to identify how many or who the bidders are. They did announce that they intend to award the contract in September, following final review and interviews with the bidding teams. Once the specifications of the winning bidder’s vehicles are known, planning will commence for the construction of the Operations and Maintenance Facility. That facility is planned to be built underneath Interstate 794.

The lakefront extension of the streetcar to the Henry Maier Festival Grounds and proposed The Couture is also undergoing survey work currently. That extension was approved with the starter line, but will be constructed later than the starter line because of the engineering work still required.

Utilities Cost Issue

Due to a change in state law inserted by Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) in the last budget bill, Milwaukee’s streetcar project will cost significantly more than many of its peers. The change mandates that any cities that build urban rail transit system projects must pay for all necessary utility relocation, unlike any other public works project in Wisconsin. The city is fighting this issue in court, but a decision could be years away. Meanwhile, the utilities continue to operate rent free under city streets all across the state.

The initial estimated cost of utilities relocation was in excess of $70 million. Through engineering work that cost was reduced by nearly $50 million to $22.7 million at the time of project approval, below the projected budget figure of $26.5 million for this. When approved in February, the cost for both the starter line and lakefront extension were budgeted at $123.9 million.

In December 2014 Mayor Tom Barrett said “I am 100 percent confident that number is going to come down by millions of dollars.” It looks like he was right.

It’s important to note that just because the utilities cost continues to come down doesn’t mean the final project will cost less. Other estimated costs of the project could increase due to unforeseen circumstances. The city could also alter the plans to improve the project in other ways (a more significant station at Cathedral Square Park on Kilbourn has been discussed). The project budget does also include a $4 million contingency fund.

State Budget Impact

An amendment was tacked into the state budget (again by Rep. Kooyenga) that could make it much more difficult for the city and county to partner their transit systems. While the intention from the mayor’s office has always been to explore paying the county transit system to operate the streetcar system, many seem to think it’s just an attempt to get the county to pay for it. This includes Common Council candidate and county supervisor Mark Borkowski who introduced legislation that would have prevented MCTS from coordinating with the city on the streetcar project.

The law authored by Kooyenga would require the city to reimburse the county for any expenses related to operation or accommodation of the streetcar, including “the forfeiture of any revenue.” While I can’t see the county sending the city a bill for this, the language does seem to open the door to the county billing the streetcar for any decline in revenue resulting from a reduction in transit system ridership.

While it’s not law yet, don’t expect Governor Scott Walker to use the veto pen on this budget amendment.

Petition Drive

The petition to have a referendum to have another referendum on the streetcar is back, but with a notable change. The anti-streetcar group’s new petition specifically exempts streetcar projects approved before July 1st, meaning the group is no longer attempting to shut down the starter system, but is instead focusing only on potential future extensions.

As was the case last time, 31,500 signatures must be collected within a 60 day window. If they’re collected it would trigger a referendum on whether to enact a law requiring that a referendum must be held to approve any city-financed “rail transit system” construction costs in excess of $10 million. In short, it’s a referendum on having future referendums.

Urban Milwaukee Streetcar Coverage

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.

Categories: Eyes on Milwaukee

One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Construction Starts in October”

  1. Ryan says:

    Hopefully the anti-streetcar knuckledraggers fail. This time they have no paid volunteers and I doubt their members will want to waste their summers standing outside to do this.

    Being a moderate conservative myself even if it were to somehow get on the ballot and pass it’s likely that in 2018 the Democrats will regain control of the state and could easily throw enough money to expand the streetcar while the city still can pay under $10.

    Either way I recommend harassing these people in public as much as possible. Steal their petitions and run/bike off! Don’t let it pass!

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