Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Approves Bus Rapid Transit

Nine-mile BRT project rolls forward, but not without strategic modifications.

By - Jul 26th, 2016 11:13 am
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BRT Rendering. Rendering from of MCTS.

BRT Rendering. Rendering from of MCTS.

The Milwaukee Common Council approved the framework for a bus rapid transit line to connect downtown Milwaukee with the city’s west side and Wauwatosa. County Executive Chris Abele, who has championed the project, now needs approval from the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors to move forward with a federal grant for the million project, which has an estimated price tag of at least $42 million.

The roughly nine-mile, twelve-stop line would run from the site of the proposed The Couture tower on the lakefront and west on Wisconsin Ave. to Hawley Rd., and then along Bluemound Rd. before snaking through the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center to the park-and-ride at Swan Boulevard.

The city adopted the proposal on a 14-1 vote, with only alderman Mark Borkowski objecting, but not without modifying the proposal. Alderman Robert Bauman and Michael Murphy, whose districts the route would run through, have inserted two clauses into the resolution protecting parking spaces. Prior to the Public Works Committee‘s adoption of the project, Bauman had a clause inserted that bars the county from taking the parking for a dedicated travel lane east of N. 35th St. Murphy introduced a successful amendment today at the full council that expanded the parking protection to a stretch between N. 60th St. and N. Hawley Rd.

While the parking protections don’t preclude the parking lane from ever being used for the system, it does impact how city employees will coordinate with the county for the final design of the route. According to a source close to the project, the move could be a shrewd one by Bauman and Murphy to force a travel lane to be dedicated to buses, or it could significantly reduce the speed of the proposed line. For the project to move forward the city will need to approve any lane closures and public infrastructure changes.

The project, which would be 80 percent federally funded, would cost between $42-to-$48 million depending on the number of dedicated lanes set aside for the system. Substantial ridership gains in the corridor, upwards of 30 percent, are estimated by the project’s consultants, AECOM and HNTB.

Gains in ridership are expected to come from high frequency of services (every 10 minutes on weekdays, every five minutes during rush hours), fewer stops and off-bus ticketing (both leading to reduced travel time), better stations than traditional bus shelters and improved vehicles that would cost upwards of $1 million each. The corridor, which consultant Dan Meyers called “the spine of the transit system” at the committee meeting, would have considerable benefit for its residents: 23 percent of those living within a half-mile of the route lack an automobile in their household, far above the county average, statistics show. Along the route are major employment and job centers including Downtown (81,000 jobs, 25,000 residents), Near West Side (40,000 residents, 30,000 jobs) and Milwaukee Regional Medical Center (16,000 jobs, 30,000 daily visitors).

Next Steps

If the county board approves the project at their Thursday meeting, a widely expected move, the county will apply on September 2nd for a Small Starts grant from the federal government. If not approved, because of federal application rules, the county would need to wait an additional year to apply. That would explain the rush to approve the plan.

The City of Wauwatosa previously granted their approval for the project on June 21st.

If the federal grant is awarded to the county, the county would begin doing engineering work on the project in 2017 with construction to begin in 2018. Service would begin in 2019.

The Wauwatosa and Milwaukee city councils will need to approve any future road closures, station locations and other infrastructure in their respective cities should the federal grant be awarded.

Is The Project Being Rushed?

In the hearing before the Public Works Committee on July 13, one comment was repeatedly echoed by aldermen Bauman and Murphy, that the project is being rushed. Murphy repeated those comments on the council floor when he introduced his amendment. The county, according to County Executive Chris Abele, is moving forward with the project as a way to compensate for the expected negative impacts of the rebuild of the roughly parallel Interstate 94.

During their final remarks on the matter at committee, Bauman stated “I have concerns not about the merits of bus rapid transit, but how this project has been rolled out in Milwaukee County. I think this is being rushed, I think this is being oversold.” Murphy admonished the process in the same fashion, stating “I do think it was rushed,” adding that the state has yet to allocate any funds to the Interstate 94 rebuild. At council, Murphy stated that he believes the rebuild wouldn’t happen until 2020 at the earliest.

The county might have another timeline in mind for the BRT, regardless of the timing of the Interstate 94 rebuild. While there hasn’t been much discussion about it, the county must compensate for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant expiring that helps support the operation of the Gold Line service in the same corridor. BRT could replace the Gold Line and gain different federal funding to replace that being lost.

Route Map

East-West BRT Route

East-West BRT Route

Past Coverage and Press Releases

More about the East-West BRT Line

3 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: City Approves Bus Rapid Transit”

  1. Sam says:

    @ Jeramey N. 60th and N. Hawley are the same road. What were the stretches in Ald. Murphy’s amendment? From 35th to Hawley/60th?

  2. Sam says:

    @ Jeramey NEVERMIND

  3. Eric S says:

    Could you clarify what the parking change means specifically? (Or maybe it’s still unclear.)

    East of 35th Street, does this mean that every existing curbside parking space (or at least a like number) must remain after this project is implemented? And does “east of 35th Street” mean all the way from 35th to the lakefront? If so, this probably rules out dedicated lanes through downtown, at least between roughly 8th/9th streets and the river. Even if the route is shifted from Wisconsin to Wells on this portion, it’s hard to see how there would be dedicated transit lanes without removing at least some parking.

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