Jeramey Jannene

Committee Approves City BRT Agreement

City DPW would be reimbursed by Milwaukee County for design and infrastructure costs.

By - Oct 23rd, 2019 12:50 pm
Conceptual rendering of the BRT line at the Wisconsin Avenue and Hawley Road intersection. Image courtesy of Milwaukee County Transit System.

Conceptual rendering of the BRT line at the Wisconsin Avenue and Hawley Road intersection. Image courtesy of Milwaukee County Transit System.

Milwaukee County’s East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line continues to move forward.

The Common Council’s Public Works Committee approved a reimbursement agreement Wednesday morning between the city and county for design and infrastructure costs.

“Basically a design agreement with the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) to be reimbursed for our efforts,” said Department of Public Works major projects manager David Tapia.

The $54 million project, intended to create an express bus route between Downtown and Wauwatosa, would operate on a number of city streets including Wisconsin Avenue and W. Blue Mound Rd.

Dedicated lanes would be created on a stretch of W. Wisconsin Ave. and stations would be installed on city-owned land.

Tapia told the committee that the agreement would cover reimbursement for everything from design work to the installation of temporary signals during construction.

But a bigger agreement remains to be struck between the city and county regarding who maintains the infrastructure.

“That’s the important file. That’s the one that will determine who will pay for snow plowing, maintenance of the roadway, station maintenance,” said committee chair Alderman Robert Bauman.

“That has yet to be finalized,” said Tapia.

HNTB planner Mike Zabel said the county continues to work through the federal grant process. Zabel said the grant has a “medium” rating from the Federal Transit Administration, the minimum required to move forward.

The federal government would pay for up to $38 million of the project’s costs under the county’s proposal.

According to MCTS transportation specialist David Locher, $11 million of the project’s costs will go towards purchasing buses, which could be electric.

“We aren’t committed to using fully electric on the BRT; it still is a possibility pending county oversight. We’re still exploring hybrid and other county options,” said Locher. If electric buses are used, an overhead charging station would be included at the end of the route.

The buses would have approximately 37 seats and a total capacity of up to 55 people. Doors would only be included on one side.

Bauman said he favored buses with doors on both sides so stations in the middle of the road could have been used. “Which I’ve argued would have had less interference with parking, deliveries,” said Bauman.

“Unfortunately that was floated earlier in the design process and ruled out,” said Locher, regarding putting stations in the middle of the road. “The fear, operationally, was you would be placing people on an island and from an ADA perspective it was how do you get from the island to the sidewalk.”

The route would run the length of Bauman’s district from the lakefront west to N. 35th St. where it would enter Ald. Michael Murphy‘s district before hitting Wauwatosa. The two council members were successful in reducing the total length of the dedicated lanes for the project following constituent complains.

Alderman Mark Borkowski, a former County Supervisor, did not vote for the agreement.

“I know that this has been a topic of discussion since 2016,” said the southwest side alderman. “I still don’t see the need.”

“I realize this is being driven by Milwaukee County. They have got a very good bus system that shoots right down Wisconsin Avenue,” said Borkowski. “It seems duplicate.”

“It seems like we’re spending money because we would like to spend money, and I just don’t see the need. It’s going to cause a lot of disruption for the people that live on that route.”

“People who talk about the bus system should learn the history of the bus system,” responded Ald. Nik Kovac. He said former Governor Scott Walker‘s spending of capital funds on operations during his tenure as Milwaukee County Executive had only been bailed out by the federal stimulus program.

MCTS faced a substantial budget deficit this year that was only averted by the reallocation of health care savings.

The committee approved the agreement on a 3-1 vote. It will next go before the full Common Council.

The new line is expected to go into operation in 2021.

The Couture and BRT

Bauman, who has long contended that MCTS has abandoned using The Couture as the route’s eastern station and that the city should follow suit with The Hop, got his chance to ask an MCTS official about the county’s plans on the record.

Locher said the county still intended to use The Couture if it’s built, but is exploring other options.

“So you have a plan B unlike some other people around this community,” said Bauman of the recent revelation that city officials haven’t begun engineering alternatives to using the base of the long-delayed apartment tower.

“The bonus of it being a bus is we have more flexibility,” said Locher. He said the county was considering options including a station near Discovery World or a station closer to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

“Maybe you can talk to some of our people at Public Works,” said Bauman.

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Related Legislation: File 191114

2 thoughts on “Transportation: Committee Approves City BRT Agreement”

  1. Nicholas La Joie says:

    Wow. Locher sounds like a real creative visionary.
    Does he not know how curb cut ramps work??
    There are countless median transit stops, including on the Hop, which don’t have any ADA issues of “getting from the median to the sidewalk.”

    Doors on both sides of the vehicles is the only good option for BRT, but he doesn’t seem to get that.

  2. TransitRider says:

    The “problem” with putting stations in the middle of the road is that every regular user must cross HALF the road twice a day.

    But why is that less onerous than putting stations on the curb which requires everybody to cross the ENTIRE road but only once a day?

    Why is crossing half the road twice a day any worse than crossing the whole road once a day? Either way you must cross each lane exactly once on each round trip.

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