City Panel Approves Bus Rapid Transit
BRT line linking Downtown and Tosa moves forward, though some decry "the rush."
Following a marathon hearing, a city committee granted its first approval to Milwaukee County’s bus rapid transit (BRT) proposal, but not without reservations. Before the hearing even began it was clear the meeting would end with more questions than answers.
Public Works Committee chair Mark Borkowski passed the gavel to transit expert and alderman Robert Bauman for the BRT agenda item, he began the hearing by stating “this is a conceptual plan, we have very few details.” The county’s BRT project team was before the committee seeking approval of their preferred route in order to move forward with a federal grant application, but not for specific lane closures.
The county’s team, which includes John Rodgers of the county Department of Transportation, as well as consultants Ashley Booth of HNTB and Dan Meyers of AECOM made their case for the roughly nine-mile project. The twelve-stop route 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 County Medical Center to the park-and-ride at Swan Boulevard.
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 for the project, but Ald. Michael Murphy asked a number of questions about the projections that weren’t able to be answered. The route would run through Murphy and Bauman’s aldermanic districts.
Public testimony, which included over 20 members of the community, was roughly three-to-one in favor of the project. Neighbors along the western portion of the route expressed concerns over the location of stations, and some residents in the corridor spoke in opposition to BRT.
The project was ultimately approved on a three-to-one vote, with alderman Borkowski voting against the project without any discussion. Committee members Jim Bohl, Nik Kovac and Bauman voted in favor of the project. Alderman Bob Donovan, who remarked earlier in the meeting “it’s been a long time since I’ve rode the bus” was absent for the vote and the remainder of the meeting.
Is The Project Being Rushed?
One comment was repeatedly echoed by aldermen Bauman and Murphy, that the project is being rushed. 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, Bauman stated “I have concerns not about the merits of bus rapid transit, but how this project has been rolled out in Milwaukee County.” Bauman went on to say, “I think this is being rushed, I think this is being oversold.” Murphy went on to admonish the process in the same fashion, stating “I do think it was rushed,” before noting that the state has yet to allocate any funds to the Interstate 94 rebuild.
Murphy went on to express concern the line might be trouble for businesses in his district:”What if the analysis says you can maintain those 13 minute savings, but you’ll put several businesses out of business?” he asked.
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.
Milwaukee County will next seek approval for the project from the full Milwaukee Common Council and the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. If approvals are granted, 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 certainly 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.
Past Coverage and Press Releases
- PR: Milwaukee County BRT Project Receives Wide Ranging Support from Community Leaders, Advocates, Business Groups and Riders – July 11th, 2016 – Chris Abele
- Does Anyone Oppose Bus Rapid Transit – June 7th, 2016 – Bruce Murphy
- Milwaukee Bus Rapid Transit Line Will Attract Thousands of New Riders and Better Serve Low Income Riders – May 18th, 2016 – MCTS
- Bus Rapid Transit Meetings This Week – April 12th, 2016 – Jeramey Jannene
- PR: Bus Rapid Transit Public Meetings This Week – April 11th, 2016 – MCTS
- PR: New Website Highlights Bus Rapid Transit Study and Project – March 29th, 2016 – MCTS
- County Plans for Bus Rapid Transit – January 16th, 2016 – Matthew Wisla
- Transit Expansion Urged – June 25th, 2015 – Michael Horne
- PR: Milwaukee County to Lead Development of Bus Rapid Transit Service – June 2nd, 2015 Chris Abele
More about the East-West BRT Line
- East-West Bus Rapid Transit Project Receives Milestone Federal Approval - Milwaukee County Transit System - Nov 30th, 2018
- MCTS Submits Updated Application for Bus Rapid Transit Funding - Milwaukee County Transit System - Sep 8th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Approves BRT Route Restrictions - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 1st, 2017
- Council approves amended bus rapid transit resolution - Ald. Michael Murphy - Jul 31st, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Fighting County on Rapid Transit - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 19th, 2017
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Give Your Input on BRT Project - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 7th, 2017
- Plenty of Horne: $2 Million BRT Study Underway - Michael Horne - Feb 6th, 2017
- Quito’s BRT, a Model for Milwaukee? - Ken Smith - Nov 14th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Approves Bus Rapid Transit - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 26th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: City Panel Approves Bus Rapid Transit - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 13th, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: Does Anyone Oppose Bus Rapid Transit? - Bruce Murphy - Jun 7th, 2016
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Bus Rapid Transit Meetings This Week - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 12th, 2016
- County Plans for Bus Rapid Transit - Matthew Wisla - Jan 16th, 2016