Jeramey Jannene

Mayor Wants Three Streetcar Extensions

Will request engineering study of extensions to Bronzeville and Walker's Point

By - May 1st, 2019 08:01 pm
The Hop existing route and proposed extensions. Red, planned for completion in 2020. Green, engineering and study planned, construction unfunded. Image from Urban Milwaukee.

The Hop existing route and proposed extensions. Red, planned for completion in 2020. Green, engineering and study planned, construction unfunded. A Lower East Side extension is unlikely to be included in the May legislation. Image from Urban Milwaukee.

Mayor Tom Barrett is advancing a proposal to extend the streetcar to the convention center on W. Wisconsin Ave. as well as study extensions to Bronzeville and Walker’s Point.

The proposal, planned to be introduced in early May for the next Common Council cycle according to multiple sources, will allow for the construction of an extension from The Hop’s western end at Milwaukee Intermodal Station to the convention center at N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. and W. Wisconsin Ave.

That extension, whose planning was reported by Urban Milwaukee in January, is estimated to cost $20 million to $30 million to engineer and build. It would be built entirely with city funds. Multiple sources described the $30 million figure as a worst-case scenario and suggested the final number will fall as coordination work is conducted with utility companies. The city would fund the work using tax-incremental financing, a model first approved in 2016.

The extension is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2020 Democratic National Convention and is likely to be at the edge of the security perimeter for the event. As part of the city’s agreement with the Democratic National Committee, it must provide free streetcar service during the event.

The file would also approve funding to perform engineering and planning work on a northern extension past Fiserv Forum to N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and W. North Ave. A southern extension through the Historic Third Ward via N. Milwaukee St. to W. Pittsburgh Ave. in Walker’s Point would also receive engineering and planning. If federal funding was to be used to build those future extensions, the city would need to submit additional environmental impact studies to the federal government. The two extensions would operate as one route.

Funding for the construction of the Walker’s Point and Bronzeville extensions would not be included in the pending legislation.

Five sources described various facets of the proposal to Urban Milwaukee, advancing a vision advocated by Barrett for over ten years of building the streetcar system incrementally.

“The biggest problem is that it doesn’t go far enough in every direction, but we are solving that problem incrementally,” said Alderman Nik Kovac. “We want to get it further south, further north, further west.” The alderman, giving the parallel East Side streets of E. Ogden Ave., E. Brady St. and E. North Ave. as examples, said that any extension builds momentum to continue to expand the system and grows its value.

City officials and project consultants have engaged in conceptual planning for how to extend the streetcar north on N. Prospect Ave. and N. Farwell to E. Brady St. according to multiple sources. Two sources close to the mayor suggest that section will not be included in any May legislation. A local funding source would need to be identified to allow the study to proceed in that area.

Ald. Tony Zielinski, a 2020 mayoral candidate, remains opposed to streetcar. “Basic city services in our neighborhoods are being cut, and the mayor keeps pushing a streetcar,” said the Bay View alderman in reference to the city’s aging snow plowing equipment and other public works infrastructure.

Zielinski, who characterized the proposal as “fiscally irresponsible,” said it’s being executed in secret. “They know it’s unpopular,” he charged.

Politically, the proposal will rely on the support of the two council members into whose districts it would extend, Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs and Alderman Jose G. Perez. Both have voted for the streetcar in the past and advocated extending it as part of a 2018 transit-oriented development study, but neither council member has publicly commented on the latest proposal.

The federally-funded 2018 study was used to define a vision for what development around a streetcar extension in Walker’s Point and Bronzeville could look like, but did not include funding for planning or engineering work on the streetcar route itself.

The Hop’s second phase, a short extension to the lakefront that would terminate at The Couture, is scheduled to open in 2020. Much of the track work is complete, but the segment through The Couture site at 909 E. Michigan St. has not been built, since it is still not known if and when the proposed tower will be built. That presents issues with the funding that will help pay for this extension, which comes from a federal TIGER grant (a program now known as BUILD under President Donald Trumpand which requires the system to be operational by the end of 2020. Depending on when The Couture is built, it may be too late to meet the federal deadline and still build the streetcar line though the proposed tower.

So is there a deadline date after which the extension will have to be built around the site for The Couture rather than through a finished building as hoped? After multiple requests from Urban Milwaukee, the Department of City Development did not provide a timeline for the last possible date construction could start on that extension without having to modify plans due to The Couture’s delay.

The city intends to again apply for federal funding through the annual program to support an extension to Fiserv Forum. The city was denied multiple times before winning the $14.2 million TIGER grant.

Barrett’s office and Ald. Robert Bauman did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

2016 Arena Extensions Plans

Renderings from Transited-Oriented Development Study

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More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

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4 thoughts on “Transportation: Mayor Wants Three Streetcar Extensions”

  1. Steven Midthun says:

    Airport, airport, airport…right through Marina Dimitrijevic’s district of Bay View.

  2. kmurphy724 says:

    Yea! Go Hub!

  3. The Hop opened to the public six calendar months ago, on November 2, 2018. I’ve ridden it every single day of this time, and I’m more optimistic than ever that The Hop is, right now, serving well in its functions to motivate development (the construction along the route is testament to that), provide transportation (I see that every day while using it and seeing more and more residential, routine use), and interest people to see Milwaukee (as I see regularly on-board–people talking about Milwaukee and seeing neighborhoods and places they have never seen–even statements by long-time residents). The Hop has demonstrated itself for these functions as well as its ability to get through snow, rain, the polar vortex, and other conditions. I think expanding it is the next step! The Main Line now serves downtown, and yes, that is just a specific area of the city, but like libraries, Fiserv Forum, MAM, the lakefront, Discovery World, and other public features, it is located in a specific place, but invites everyone to use it. Downtown has long been considered “everybody’s neighborhood”–the central area of Milwaukee–central to business and visitors–and the Hop’s extension can serve to move and share this prosperity and development further out to more neighborhoods. In my own studies of urban transportation, I have learned how all transportation is context-specific, and that streetcars have a historic and demonstrated modern function in connecting densely populated areas. And densely populated areas have been demonstrated to support the kind of people-oriented knowledge economy that is in Milwaukee’s potential.

  4. TransitRider says:

    What happens to the Hop’s schedule when it (finally) gets warmer and the St. Paul bridge opens every few minutes for passing boats?

    And what happens when that bridge gets stuck in a raised position? (The bridge’s lift mechanism, like all mechanical things, fails from time-to-time.)

    Most of the tracks are east of the river, but the streetcar garage is west. And thanks to track built for the Couture route, westbound streetcars can turn east at Broadway & St. Paul without crossing the bridge. But at the end of the day the streetcars won’t be able to reach the garage if the bridge is stuck. Likewise streetcars won’t leave the garage if the bridge isn’t available.

    As tracks are extended north on Vel Phillips (fka 4th St), thought should be given to constructing trackage across another bridge further north.

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