Jeramey Jannene
Transportation

Barrett Talks Up Streetcar Extension

Mayor discusses three-part streetcar extension in interview with Urban Milwaukee.

By - May 2nd, 2019 02:31 pm
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The Hop, Milwaukee's streetcar system, on N. Broadway. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Hop, Milwaukee’s streetcar system, on N. Broadway. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Tom Barrett is seeking to fulfill a promise to extend The Hop streetcar system beyond its initial downtown route.

Barrett spoke to Urban Milwaukee Thursday morning about the proposed extension of The Hop streetcar system to Bronzeville, Walker’s Point and the Lower East Side. The mayor’s proposal would fund construction of an extension to the convention center and fund engineering and planning work on extensions to N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and W. North Ave. via Fiserv Forum and S. 1st St. and W. Pittsburgh Ave. via N. Milwaukee St.

When Urban Milwaukee broke the news Wednesday evening that the city was planning the extensions, supporters cheered the news, while critics slammed the proposal as a waste of money and something that still isn’t long enough.

Does Barrett think it’s long enough? “When I went to Portland initially, they told me that before it was built, people would think it’s the end of western civilization as we know it, but once we got the starter route going the debate would change to ‘how do we get it extended to my neighborhood?’,” he noted. “That’s clearly what we are experiencing now. What I hear far from more often now is ‘when is it going to get extended, when is it going to get extended?'” The Portland Streetcar, which opened in 2001, has been extended multiple times and now has a 3.9-mile route that connects at multiple points with a regional light rail system.

“What is significant about today is I am fulfilling my vision of extending it into the neighborhoods by having it go north into Bronzeville and south into Walker’s Point. We’re demonstrating that the first step, that would get us in line for federal funding, is to get it into neighborhoods.”

But does it go far enough into Walker’s Point? “We feel that there is a consensus on 1st and Pittsburgh and want to see what the best route is from there,” said Barrett.

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. Image from Urban Milwaukee.

Others disagree. “The planning work needs to extend furth south to 6th and National,” said Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority board chair Ivan Gamboa on Twitter. Politically, Barrett’s proposal is likely to need the support of area Alderman Jose G. Perez. Perez has said one of the reasons he supported the system was the belief that it would be extended to Walker’s Point and other south side neighborhoods.

Barrett is also likely to catch political flak for the cost, estimated at $28 million, for the extension from the Milwaukee Intermodal Station to the convention center. The N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. corridor is reportedly heavily encumbered with underground utilities that the city would need to pay to relocate. “I think it’s understandable, obviously we would like always like the cost to be lower, but it’s understandable,” said Barrett.

The proposal to be unveiled Thursday afternoon will not include an extension to the Lower East Side, but that’s not because the plan has been dropped. “That’s still in our plans. All of this is contingent obviously on financing.”  The city has already performed preliminary engineering work on an extension to E. Brady St. and has received an important “finding of no significant impact” from the Federal Transit Administration on the route. But what the extension lacks is money to actually build it. A local and federal funding source need to be identified.

Funding would also need to be found for the construction of the Bronzeville and Walker’s Point. Those two extensions would operate as one line, a move that is intended to allow the city to pursue federal funding from a variety of programs it previously wasn’t eligible for.

“We’re hopeful and optimistic and we’re going to stay on this,” concluded Barrett.

A formal press conference to unveil the plan is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

2016 Arena Extensions Plans

Renderings from Transited-Oriented Development Study

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More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

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

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