Trump Announces Funding for Milwaukee Bus Rapid Transit Line
President tweets long-awaited $40.9 million grant is being awarded.
Milwaukee County will receive $40.9 million in federal support for its $54.79 million East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project to connect downtown Milwaukee with Wauwatosa and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.
That’s according to a tweet from President Donald Trump. The line would be funded as part of a Small Starts grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). “Bringing modern transit to the region’s most critical corridor and spur millions in economic development. Love Wisconsin!,” he tweeted.
Trump had originally proposed to eliminate the grant program and his administration withheld releasing funding on already approved grants before Congress compelled the funding be released.
Milwaukee County applied for its grant in September 2016 and, with project consultants AECOM and HNTB, had been working through the USDOT’s project development process. A USDOT report from November 2018 said the project was on track for a 2020 grant approval.
The 19-stop line would run from the site of the proposed The Couture tower on the lakefront and west on Wisconsin Ave. to Hawley Rd., and then along Bluemound Rd. before snaking through the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center to a park-and-ride lot on N. Swan Blvd. Approximately 46 percent of the route would contain dedicated, bus-only lanes.
Gains in ridership are expected to come from a high frequency of service (every 10 minutes on weekday daytime hours, 15 to 30 minutes at other times), fewer stops and off-bus ticketing (both leading to reduced travel time), better stations than traditional bus shelters and improved vehicles that would cost upwards of $1 million each. According to a study by the county, the corridor would have considerable benefits for nearby residents: 23 percent of those living within a half-mile of the route lack an automobile in their household, far above the county average, statistics show. Along the route are major employment and job centers including Downtown (81,000 jobs, 25,000 residents), near West Side (40,000 residents, 30,000 jobs) and Milwaukee Regional Medical Center (16,000 jobs, 30,000 daily visitors).
The remaining funding for the project is expected to come from an additional federal grant ($2.27 million), the county vehicle registration fee ($1.98 million), a signal prioritization project ($1.28 million) and county bonding ($8.34 million). The county’s share of the funding will go towards purchasing buses for the line. The line is expected to cost $6.07 million annually to operate, a portion of which would come from reallocating existing transit service in the corridor.
As of late 2019, the East-West BRT line was expected to open in 2021.
“As this first-of-its-kind project moves forward, it will strengthen the entire transit network and aid in achieving opportunity and racial equity in a way that moves Milwaukee County closer to achieving its vision of becoming the healthiest county in the state,” said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley in a statement.
The City of Milwaukee has yet to approve a deal with Milwaukee County regarding who will pay for snow plowing, station maintenance and other indirect costs related to the project. “That’s the important file,” said Alderman Robert Bauman when the Common Council approved a reimbursement package for the county to repay the city for design and engineering costs. The city and county have not always seen eye-to-eye on the project.
The county now faces the same challenge as the city does with its streetcar where the delays on The Couture and its planned first-floor transit concourse impact the ability to complete the system as planned. Unlike the streetcar’s fixed tracks the bus could be detoured temporarily, but logistically issues could emerge if the county moves forward with a plan to use battery-powered buses and needs to install a downtown charging station. Department of City Development officials promised an announcement on The Couture by the end of June.
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Read more about East-West BRT Line here