Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Streetcar Track Construction Starts in April

System on track to start service in late 2018, project is on-budget

By - Feb 17th, 2017 11:52 am
Streetcar Construction Timeline

Streetcar Construction Timeline

The first track for the Milwaukee Streetcar will be installed in April of this year. The initial segment built will be a double-tracked section running from the Milwaukee River to the Milwaukee Intermodal Station along W. St. Paul Ave. From there, crews will work to build the rest of the route over the next year. Service is on track to begin in the fourth quarter of 2018 following testing.

Kiewet Infrastructure project manager Michael Eithier briefed the city’s Joint Committee on Downtown Streetcar Implementation today on construction staging details regarding what his firm regards as a three phase project. The first phase involves utility relocation (already well underway) as well as strategically staging the steel rails at points along the route and building the foundations for the the overhead catenary system. In late March the city will accept delivery of 474 80-foot long rail segments that will be stored at five points along or near the route in curb lanes.

The second phase of Kiewet’s work involves building the actual track system. That work, which is to begin in April, will involve cutting an 8-foot wide and 2-foot deep segment of the street out and installing and welding the rails. From there a new concrete slab will be poured around the rails. In select situations an entire intersection will be rebuilt. Eithier stated that “in almost all cases we’ll be able to keep one lane of traffic going at all times.” The project manager also noted that access to parking garages and other entry points along the route will be maintained throughout construction.

The final phase of Kiewet’s work involves installing the overhead catenary system which provides power to the vehicles and testing the system. Portions of the route will run “off wire” utilizing battery technology in the vehicles, but the majority of the route will have overhead wire.

According to Ethier and Department of Public Works commissioner Ghassan Korban the construction schedule reflects meeting with stakeholders along the route to accomodate their needs. This includes the section along E. St. Paul Ave. in the Historic Third Ward being finished before Summerfest begins in late June and the section along E. Kilbourn Ave. not commencing until after the summer festival season and Bastille Days.

Kiewet expects to complete construction in the second quarter of 2018 to allow for testing to commence. The Milwaukee Streetcar Maintenance Facility, to be built under Interstate 794, is scheduled for completion before the end of 2017. The facility will be completed in advance so that the city can safely store the vehicles delivered by Brookville Equipment Corporation.

As the Kiewet project manager said, “it’s going to be a very busy 2017 building the guideway.”

Utility Work Continues

Utility work, which has been underway for over a year, will continue through the early stages of the track construction. Crews from We Energies are performing the work on-budget, according to monthly status updates given to the city says Ethier. Approximately $15 million is in an escrow account and dispensed on an on-going basis. Contractors for We Energies and other utilities are on schedule with their work, and have completed approximately 80 percent of the planned relocations.

Hiring About to Start

As I reported in January, Kiewet is gearing up for a major hiring push for the streetcar. The firm is securing agreement with a number of sub-contractors. Kiewet will need to subcontract with a number of certified disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE) to achieve the 21 percent of project costs goal in that category, a goal that Eithier said they’re on track to meet.

Hiring of actual workers, approximately 50 percent of which will work directly for Kiewet, is slated to begin soon. An initial outreach event generated substantial interest according to Eithier, but alderwoman Milele A. Coggs pushed to deliver more demographic details on who those individuals were and continue to work on expanding their outreach efforts. The project council approval requires 40 percent of the project hours to be completed by city residents qualified under the city’s Resident Preference Program for un- or under-employed individuals. Potential streetcar workers are receiving training from WRTP/BIG STEP through a transportation construction class.

Specialized crews from out-of-state will be used to do the flash welding that connects the rails. According to Korban and Eithier companies that do this work use specialized equipment and travel the whole country doing their work. According to Eithier “it’s a very unique piece of work, not something done very regularly.” Students in Milwaukee Area Technical College‘s welding program will have an opportunity to learn from the crews when they’re here

Lakefront Line

The lakefront spur of the Milwaukee Streetcar will see construction start later than the system’s main line. Guideway construction along E. Michigan St. and E. Clybourn St. isn’t slated to begin until the second quarter of 2018. Utility work will proceed the actual track construction though.

Service on the lakefront line is planned to begin in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Route and 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

11 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Streetcar Track Construction Starts in April”

  1. WashCoRepub says:

    Onward to a bright, progressive, multi-modal future!

    Hopefully, the next stages can take us forward/backward to horses and gas street lighting.

  2. Thank you for your concise and informed report.

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    WashCoTroll, that joke wasn’t funny when you first made it two years ago. Repeating it doesn’t improve it. Right-wingers just aren’t funny.

  4. John Savage says:

    Now that Trump is President, we can be sure there will be NO new grants to extend this albitross. It’s uselessness will become clear even to our dear Mayor.

  5. John Casper says:

    WashCoRepub, it’s “integrated multi-modal transit.”

    If you had ever owned a vehicle, you’d know the worst thing for it is stop-and-go driving.

    Employers love the street car. Their workers can ride it and work.

  6. Tom D says:

    John Savage (post 4): I wouldn’t be so sure about Trump cutting off future streetcar funding. His inaugural address included this sentence:

    We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. (Emphasis added.)

    Besides, he’s from New York City—where more people commute by rail than by automobile, so he knows the value of rail.

  7. mbradleyc says:

    I’m excited to see this finally get going. I look forward to using it.

  8. Sean says:

    It would be nice to see this integrated with light rail. The rails are already in place, from the airport to the downtown station and from Tosa to the downtown station and back (for the medical complex). From there commuters could actual use the street car to get to and from work/home. Help funding by selling naming rights to the different lines as well. Also county/city owned parking lots at the train stations would boom and be another source of funding and tax relief.

  9. Eric S says:

    @Sean – I think you are probably referring to what is usually called “commuter rail” rather than “light rail.” I agree there is merit in considering such a system but I think you may be underestimating the challenges in setting up commuter rail on a relatively busy railroad mainline and also overestimating the revenues that would be generated by naming rights and parking fees.

    At any rate, the region came close to getting commuter rail a number of years ago with the KRM proposal (commuter rail linking Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee). At this time, though, it does not seem like there is support on the regional and state level for improved and expanded transit service (unfortunately, in my opinion). I tend to believe that any such improvements and expansions will need to be largely driven by Milwaukee city and county at this point.

  10. Eric S says:

    I should add that the city and county face significant restrictions in coming up with additional funding for expanded transit services, unless and until there is a supportive state partner. I am reasonably confident that any commuter rail service would require action at the state level and I cannot see such action taking place anytime soon.

  11. David says:

    Sean…. there are plans for BRT lines operating their own right of way. These should integrate with the streetcar.

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