Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Streetcar Project Receives Federal Grant

City will use funding to study extension of streetcar to Bronzeville and Walker's Point.

By - Oct 12th, 2016 10:27 am

Milwaukee Streetcar

The city and its Milwaukee Streetcar project has received a federal grant to study development on route extensions. The $750,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration will fund a study of transit-oriented development along planned extensions south into Walker’s Point and north along N. Martin Luther King Dr.

Mayor Tom Barrett has long sold the project as an economic development tool as much as it is a transportation tool, and this grant reinforces that notion.  According to a release from the United States Department of Transportation “the city will work with stakeholders along the proposed extensions to evaluate how to use transit-supportive development to revitalize the two corridors and better connect residents to downtown jobs.” To date the concept of transit-oriented development has been illustrated by  projects like The Couture, which will have a streetcar station in the first floor of the building, TOD is often not that literal. Successful TOD strategies include aligning zoning and design standards along a transit corridor, finding synergies with other public investments along the route, as well as maximizing the development of land nearest stations on a transit system.

Examples of TOD can be found in the urban nodes that form around commuter rail stations in the Chicago area or the South Waterfront neighborhood that developed around the Portland Streetcar. Ironically, a great example of TOD can be found in Milwaukie, Oregon, which recently was connected to the Portland light rail system and now boasts the ninth hottest real estate market in the country.

The description of the list of federal grant awards, totaling $14.7 million, notes that for Milwaukee “final outcomes will include revised zoning code text, development plans and policies for key sites, streetscape and pedestrian/bicycle access plans, affordable housing development strategies, and TOD financing strategies.”

Other Streetcar Updates

Earlier this year city officials learned they were unsuccessful in securing a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant for the N. 4th St. extension to the new Milwaukee Bucks arena. This doesn’t mean that extension won’t move forward; the city has applied multiple times for the highly-competitive TIGER grants with varying amounts of success. Following a few misses, they were ultimately successful in 2015 in securing $14.2 million to help fund the lakefront extension to the planned Couture development, something Barrett had indicated was likely if the city approved the phase 1 route. Expect the city to continue to refine the .75 mile N. 4th St. extension and explore other federal funding programs to pay for additional extensions.

While track work has not officially started, the effects of the streetcar project are already visible around the Lower East Side, Downtown, and the Historic Third Ward, where crews are working on the route to relocate utilities. This work is most visible on both N. Broadway and E. Kilbourn Ave. where large trenches run in the future location of the tracks. Kiewit Infrastructure, the project’s general contractor, will begin construction of the actual system in the coming months. The 2.1 mile first phase from the Lower East Side to the Milwaukee Intermodal Station is expected to begin operation in 2018, with the lakefront extension coming online in 2019.

In a press release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated “the [Barack] Obama Administration is proud to partner with forward-leaning communities with plans to develop around transit options that connect hardworking families to jobs, education and opportunity.”

N. 4th St. Extension and Other Expansion Plans

More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here

6 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Project Receives Federal Grant”

  1. Henry Loeser says:


  2. Casey says:

    $750k just to “study” it? Can we put any of those unused funds into actual construction?

  3. TJP says:

    Great news!

  4. Mr says:

    Sounds stupid to me

  5. Al Lindro says:

    Casey, your comment is right on in my opinion. I would be interested in a breakdown of how you spend 3/4 of a million $$ to study something as straightforward as this. Anyone have any idea? Of course, “Government Money” (aka, Other Peoples’ Money) always seems different than “real money”.

    But I try to envision how to translate something like this into terms all can comprehend. Like, for example, if a person pays $5,000 a year on property taxes, then It would take 150 of us to foot the bill for this study if we were to divert our 2017 property taxes to whomever is going to rake in that money “studying”. Or, if we have various people working on the study, each making $50 an hour, that’s 15,000 hours. 7-plus “person years”.

    Having worked in private sector management, business ownership, and consulting, it seems to me that if this were a competitive situation, the project specs would probably say something like: “Final report due 8 months from start date; 2 expert professionals required, with 1 or 2 administrative (analyst type) personnel. Please specify hourly rates of pay for the necessary talent. If your budget for doing this project is more than $250,000 — do not bother to submit a proposal.”

    Here’s the thing. Tell some organization(s) you’ve got $750,000 to spend and (guess what!!) it WILL all be billed, and probably half way through there will be a “change of scope” request for another $200k, because everyone just KNOWS that government will roll over and pay.

  6. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    If this 100 million would have been used fro buses it would be valuable.

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