Commuter Rail to Foxconn Proposed
Bauman proposes new train from 35th and Capitol to Highway 11 in Racine County.
With Foxconn’s proposed $10 billion factory campus in southern Racine County poised to reshape southeastern Wisconsin, Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman has introduced the idea of a commuter rail line to connect city residents to the estimated 13,000 jobs the company is poised to create. The transit advocate has been seeking to draw attention to the need to develop a way for Milwaukee residents, approximately 25 percent of whom don’t have cars, to get to the massive factory campus.
Bauman’s latest idea, which would take riders from a station at N. 35th St. and W. Capitol Dr. to Highway 11 in southern Racine County in approximately 45 minutes, competes with two other public transportation proposals that could deliver Milwaukee residents to Foxconn’s front door. The first, introduced recently by Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. would have the Milwaukee County Transit System operate a bus line to factory campus from downtown Milwaukee. The other, introduced in February by Bauman, would leverage the expansion of the Amtrak Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee to provide fast service between the city and rural factory campus. All of the options would require additional public financing, something Bauman says should be a non-issue given the state’s willingness to commit over $4 billion to Foxconn.
Representatives of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission were at City Hall Wednesday morning for a meeting of the city’s Public Transportation Review Board to discuss all of the options.
SEWRPC deputy director Kevin Muhs said his organization has already identified the potential commuter rail line as a component of the organization’s Vision 2050 plan. The plan shows a route running to the downtown train station before following the route proposed for the KRM Commuter Rail line along the lakefront and into downtown Racine and Kenosha. Either route is possible said Muhs, but would require coordination with the private railroad that owns the track from the Menomonee Valley to the state line. He informally estimated that the service would take up to five years to begin operating, and would require much of the same infrastructure work Canadian Pacific is requesting to expand the Hiawatha from seven to 10 daily roundtrips. That timeline is similar to the expansion of the Hiawatha Service.
Creating the new commuter rail service would avoid one potential hiccup with the Amtrak plan. An environmental assessment of the Amtrak expansion is likely to be challenged by Illinois residents. “They’re not objecting to additional passenger trains, they’re objecting to the freight trains that would be idling on these sidings,” said Bauman. The $195 million Amtrak expansion plan requires significant infrastructure work in Illinois because of the increased congestion it adds to a corridor that has more than 50 daily Metra commuter rail trains, whereas little work needs to be done in Wisconsin which can more easily accommodate the proposed expansion.
Foxconn Bus Plans
Mums presented SEWRPC’s recent study of a bus route between downtown Milwaukee and Foxconn. The limited-stop service, prepared at Lipscomb’s request, would have a bus stopping along Wisconsin Ave., then at the College Ave. and Holt Ave. park-and-ride facilities before ending at Foxconn. A second line could connect to downtown Racine from Foxconn. “This isn’t by any means an all-day service,” said Muhs. Travel times from downtown to Foxconn would be 45-to-50 minutes according to Muhs, with the schedule designed to sync with Foxconn’s anticipated 12-hour shifts.
SEWRPC has found that the county contracting out the operations of the route could provide more capacity and a higher-quality ride. A coach bus operator would use 55-set coach buses versus the 36-seat county transit buses. Costs would be 10 to 40 percent higher, but if the system is well utilized, the net cost per passenger would likely be lower. If the county operates the service themselves they would need to purchase additional buses at approximately $500,000 each.
Under either scenario a one-way trip is expected to cost $4 if paid for with cash, but much lower on average (MCTS would get an average of $1.80 per trip) because SEWRPC projects there will be substantial use of weekly or monthly passes that offer bulk discounts, and a number of riders paying only a transfer from another MCTS trip. Four daily round trips, a capacity of 220 employees, would require an annual operating subsidy of $150,000 to $530,000, depending on ridership. Increasing the service to 12 daily round trips would increase the subsidy to an estimated maximum of $1.59 million annual expense.
If that’s the case, Bauman noted, you have “these 13,000 (Foxconn) jobs and not to mention other suppliers and other business that will supposedly be created because of Foxconn, if out of those 13,000 jobs if there are going to be 36 people that want to take a bus. I find that ridiculous.”
The alderman then pivoted to Amtrak, noting that expanding the service would be nearly twice as fast as the bus for nearly the same cost. Rides would cost $4.60 each way if the rider paid with a currently available $184 monthly pass for unlimited rides between Milwaukee and Sturtevant and the ride takes about 25 minutes (though it’s coming from downtown Milwaukee rather than 35th and Capitol). Capacity on the route could be relatively easily expanded by adding cars to trains. The expansion, which would cost an estimated $2 million annually, would also be useful for more than just getting directly to Foxconn for Milwaukee.
Muhs offered no view on this versus a bus. “We don’t really have a recommendation if this is the right approach, we only did this at the request of the county board chair,” he said.
The Elephant in the Room
Despite all of this debate, one major problem remains. “You can only do this in careful coordination with Foxconn,” says Muhs. And the company has yet to respond to a request from the city to engage on the topic.
SEWRPC also has not engaged with Foxconn on the mass transit front. In response to a question from county lobbyist and public transportation board member Eric Peterson, Muhs said “no, we have not had discussions with them about this.”
Muhs said the company could operate their own transit system and could also provide a substantial amount of free parking. “Parking costs essentially determine transit ridersip. If they meet the promised salary targets, those people should be able to purchase cars if they choose,” Muhs conceded.
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- The State of Politics: All Sides Won On New Foxconn Deal - Steven Walters - Apr 26th, 2021
- New Foxconn Deal Cuts Incentives By $2.77 Billion - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 20th, 2021
- Rep Hintz: Statement on Approval of Revised Foxconn Contract - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - Apr 20th, 2021
- New Foxconn and WEDC Agreement Provides Flexibility and Clarity for Renewed Tech Investments in Science and Technology Park - Foxconn Technology Group - Apr 20th, 2021
- Gov. Evers Announces Renegotiated Foxconn Contract to Save Taxpayers $2.77 Billion - Gov. Tony Evers - Apr 20th, 2021
- Rep. Hintz: Statement on Foxconn Announcement - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - Apr 19th, 2021
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Read more about Foxconn Facility here