Jeramey Jannene

Congress Extends Streetcar Grant

Extended deadline for spending grant allows city to finish streetcar line through delayed Couture tower.

By - Mar 16th, 2022 05:47 pm
Streetcar extension in E. Michigan St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Streetcar extension in E. Michigan St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The $1.5 trillion spending bill signed into law Tuesday by President Joe Biden included some good news for Milwaukee’s streetcar system and Barrett Lo Visionary Development.

It keeps alive a 2015 grant program that is essential to the completion of The Hop’s lakefront spur. Without congressional action, Milwaukee was poised to lose the unspent portion of a $14.2 million grant that partially funds the construction of a streetcar extension through the base of The Couture.

“I am glad to have partnered with Senator Tammy Baldwin to help ensure that these 2015 TIGER grant funds can continue to be used to improve transportation options in Milwaukee, and were not sent back to Washington, DC,” said Congresswoman Gwen Moore in a statement to Urban Milwaukee. “These dollars are critical to helping bring forth a larger vision for promoting economic development in our city and along our beautiful lakefront and part of efforts to build out our streetcar to reach additional parts of the city.”

Without the extension, the 2015 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program would have expired on Sept. 30, 2022. The extension keeps the program, and the city’s grant, alive for one more year.

“It was great news, but there is still more work to be done,” said a spokesperson for Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

The Federal Transit Administration still needs to adjust its grant timeline, but the FTA has long been helpful to the city on the project. That included a 2021 extension that was to see the line enter service by June of this year.

The city is relying on the remaining $1.41 million of the grant to pay for the portion of the 0.4-mile line that will run through the base of the tower at 909 E. Michigan St. The streetcar track abruptly terminates today in the middle of the street on E. Michigan St. and E. Clybourn St., while the city awaits construction on the tower to progress to a point it can run track through its base.

Placing a streetcar stop in the base of The Couture, a 44-story, $190 million apartment tower, was a key piece of the pitch to secure the federal grant and for local officials to approve the streetcar.

But the tower, first proposed in 2012, has been repeatedly delayed. For years that didn’t impact the similarly-delayed streetcar, but by 2018 the timelines started to diverge. The city completed the system, including one-way lines on Michigan and Clybourn, but couldn’t open the lakefront extension alongside the rest of the system in November.

The day the system opened, developer Rick Barrett celebrated landing a key loan guarantee to advance the tower. But in the ensuing year the developer was unable to raise the additional funding necessary to access the guarantee. By 2020, Common Council members started pushing for an alternative plan to route the streetcar around the tower.

But come 2021, a solution seemed to be in sight. To access $19.5 million in public infrastructure funding from the city, Barrett and partner Tan Lo personally guaranteed the $1.41 million in unspent grant funds. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in June.

But shortly after construction began, delays were encountered.

“As is expected with a major construction project on a 2-acre downtown site, there have been a few unforeseen conditions encountered while working below grade. In particular, we found two major discoveries that were not on the survey: more than 50 piles which needed to be identified and removed, and a We Energies transformer serving downtown which needed to be designed around. These challenges were addressed and construction is advancing,” said the developer in a February statement.

On Wednesday, Barrett confirmed a previously rumored issue: a dispute involving a wall on a neighboring building.

But all of that is now in the past according to Barrett and the city officials present for the start of a massive concrete pour.

“The predictability, from this day forward, we control and Findorff controls, and our subcontractors control,” said the developer. “When you have the unpredictability through the subsoil conditions, that’s always a really hard part and now we’re through that.”

The city expects to be given access to the site next year with enough time to put the streetcar line into service by September 2023. The council will need to approve a revised development agreement to better define that timeline.

When it’s completed, the line will operate east down E. Michigan St. and west down E. Clybourn St. A stop for both The Hop and the Milwaukee County East-West Bus Rapid Transit line will be included in the base of The Couture.



More about the Couture

Read more about Couture here

More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

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

Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here

Categories: Transportation, Weekly

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