Street Safety Funding Passes Committee
DPW would get $1.2 million in new, dedicated funding for complete streets.
The Department of Public Works (DPW) could have its first dedicated allocation of funding under two different budget proposals. Both are scheduled to be reviewed Friday as part of the Common Council’s budget adoption day.
The funding allotment comes after the city has adopted a Complete Streets policy and pedestrian plan, but now finds itself grappling with two separate incidents and two deaths in as many weeks where children were hit by reckless drivers.
If adopted, the two amendments would provide a total of $1.2 million for infrastructure-related safety improvements. City Engineer Samir Amin said the funds could be used for everything from curb bump outs designed to shorten pedestrian crossing distances to flashing beacons at midblock crossings to increase pedestrian awareness.
The improvements are designed to supplement enforcement and educational efforts to reduce reckless driving and provide a better environment
Mayor Tom Barrett‘s proposed budget included $700,000 for “multimodal transportation,” though in a traffic controls account. The council’s Finance & Personnel Committee voted unanimously to reallocate that funding to a dedicated account.
An amendment sponsored by council members Robert Bauman and Nik Kovac added another $500,000 to the fund through borrowing. It was originally proposed to be funded through reducing funding for police car replacements.
“We have gotten the message ‘we want to reduce spending on the police.’ This is what the community has told us, here is one way to get some significant public safety benefits in a non-police way,” said Bauman of the push for more non-police public safety spending by groups like Black Leaders Organizing for Communities.
But Ald. Michael Murphy made a friendly amendment to fund it with new borrowing instead of cutting the police capital budget. A number of amendments had sought to raid that fund with a Milwaukee Police Department representative telling the council that the average vehicle was now almost 10 years old and had over 90,000 miles on its odometer.
While waiting for the amemdment to be drafted during hour nine of the October 31st amendment meeting, Amin had to take a substantial amount of criticism from the committee members and Bauman.
“Let’s say you get $1.2 million, what are you going to do with it?” asked Russell W. Stamper, II. Amin said it depended on a variety of factors, which had Bauman interject: “this is pathetic.”
Amin said the department has the capacity to do the improvements and otherwise would hire outside contractors.
“So you wouldn’t even really have a plan for spending the money?” asked Coggs.
Murphy came to Amin’s rescue. “The problem is going to be we will have more need than money,” said the west side council member.
Stamper quickly proved Murphy’s point, ticking off a long list of intersections in need of improvements before Murphy could interject that they were all in Stamper’s own district.
Amin told the committee that DPW, which is required by the 2018 Complete Streets policy to consider all road users in any road project, would find money for project-specific improvements in the budget for those projects.
“We are hearing from constituents to take engineering solutions and force drivers to slow down,” said Murphy.
“I definitely will spend as much money as you give us, there is no question,” said Amin.
Committee chair Milele A. Coggs was the lone no vote against Bauman’s amendment. “I will be 100 percent transparent, I am not confident in DPW’s ability to spend the money.” She said if the other $700,000 wasn’t allocated she would have backed it.
An earlier amendment by Bauman, who does not serve on the finance committee, to take $500,000 from the Milwaukee Public Library‘s capital improvement fund, was unanimously rejected by the committee.
The Common Council will meet Friday to adopt the city’s $1.6 billion budget.
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