Should National Avenue Rebuild Include Plans for Streetcar?
Alderman Bauman floats idea as strategy to save money if future extension is built.
The Department of Public Works is moving forward on design work to rebuild W. National Ave. from S. 1st St. to S. 39th St.
Construction work is expected to start in 2026 on the state-backed, $25.2 million project. But one council member is already looking beyond that to what could come next.
DPW major projects manager David Tapia said design work hadn’t proceeded to that point yet, and that it wasn’t exactly clear where a future streetcar line would be located in the roadway.
“There are probably streetcar tracks buried under that entire length of road. Double tracked on the centerline, exactly where it’s supposed to be,” said Bauman. Many street reconstruction projects in Milwaukee involve removing tracks that were paved over more than 50 years ago. Tapia said “ground-penetrating radar” revealed that the streetcar tracks were still there in National in many locations.
Bauman said National Avenue was a logical spot to bring the streetcar back given its high population density, varied housing types, and mix of commercial and industrial businesses. It also provides a route to a major destination. “That is your back door connection to [American Family Field[ from Downtown,” said the alderman. “I think it would be a huge boost for those neighborhoods.”
Clearing a pathway for a future streetcar could save millions of dollars if a future extension is built.
“When you’re ripping out the street down to the subgrade, this is the opportunity to at least think ahead like we did with the St. Paul bridge,” said Bauman. The bridge over the Milwaukee River was rebuilt with space for streetcar rails before the full streetcar project was approved.
The council allocated $250,000 from a tax incremental financing district to do preliminary engineering work and identify a preferred route on an extension from the Historic Third Ward south to the area near W. National Ave. and S. 1st St. Bauman and Tapia agreed Thursday that S. 1st St. to W. National Ave. was the likely corridor.
When the rebuild was first announced in February 2020, Area Alderman Jose G. Perez and then-DPW Commissioner said the project gives the city to opportunity to build a street that serves all users, not just motorists. The project includes rebuilding, and potentially expanding, both the roadway and sidewalks.
The committee unanimously endorsed a non-streetcar-related amendment to the project plan that increases the design cost $118,600, with the city paying $29,650 of the increase. The city is to pay only $1.57 million of the project’s costs because the street is technically Wisconsin Highway 59.
The Need For Outreach
Perez is pushing for the city to have a robust outreach effort to businesses and residents in the corridor.
“As soon as this hits the airwaves in any form all the businesses get so nervous about what the construction is going to mean,” said Perez.
Tapia said the city was hiring a consulting firm to augment the city’s in-house capabilities. It would also be using the Social Pinpoint software platform to allow stakeholders to tag areas of concern on a map or identify other issues.
Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II said his experience is that people need to know businesses are still accessible. “The key was getting those signs up,” he said of a project in his district. DPW installs free-standing, “open for business” signs, often approximately six feet tall, that let people know what places are accessible and how to get to them.
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Related Legislation: File 211850
For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.
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