Graham Kilmer

Countywide Safe Streets Plan Coming?

County board supports applying for federal funds to create plan in concert with all 19 municipalities.

By - Jul 14th, 2022 12:55 pm
Multi-vehicle crash. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Multi-vehicle crash. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) is interested in developing a countywide plan for improving street safety and county board members like the idea.

MCDOT Director Donna Brown-Martin, who reports to Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, explained that the general idea is to work with all 19 municipalities to create a comprehensive plan that they can draw on for road safety projects for their community.

“We’re not looking to rubber stamp any one community’s approach to how to deal with reckless driving or how to address zero deaths in Wisconsin,” she told a county committee on Tuesday. “But we’re looking to pull all of those ideas together and develop a plan.”

The City of Milwaukee already has two policies in place that broadly aim to make streets safer. The first is the Complete Streets policy, adopted in 2018, which seeks to incorporate infrastructure in street designs that meet the needs of everyone – all ages, abilities and pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers alike. It also recently adopted a “Vision Zero” policy that adds another layer onto Complete Streets’ focus on engineering, with additional attention paid to education and enforcement.

Brown-Martin came before the board’s Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee asking for authority to apply for funding under a new grant program created by the federal 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The Safe Streets and Roads for All program offers significant funding, with $5 billion annually available for disbursement over the next five years.

MCDOT is seeking $1,000,000 grant, which will require a 20%, or $200,000 match from the county for purposes of developing the plan.

Whether all 19 municipalities realize it or not, Brown-Martin and MCDOT are putting them in a position to tap into the billions in federal funding for roadway safety projects in the coming years.

To receive funding under the program, a local government must first develop or update a comprehensive “safety action plan” as it’s termed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

“What we propose is to incorporate and be the umbrella for all 19 municipalities to roll their plan into our overall plan so that, when it’s time for developing infrastructure needs, meeting the demands for implementation, we’re all moving forward at the same time,” Brown-Martin said.

There will be a “leadership commitment” required of all the municipalities involved in the effort, in order to establish road safety goals, then plan projects to meet them. Essentially, that involves deciding what are the county’s infrastructure needs to “help with correcting reckless driving issues, as well as eliminating deaths on our county trunk highways and within our communities,” Brown-Martin said.

The program also requires a “safety analysis of existing conditions and historical trends,” according to a USDOT fact sheet, in order to determine the baseline for the level of crashes and traffic fatalities in communities.

Brown-Martin said she is glad this is included in the program guidelines, saying she thinks it will be “critical to our process.”

“Safety in Greenfield is not going to be the same as safety in South Milwaukee or the same as safety in Oak Creek,” she said. “Each community has different safety concerns and this would address those concerns.”

The process will also involve significant community engagement. “So we have a wide, diverse community here in Milwaukee County,” Brown-Martin said. “And being able to meet the needs of the individual neighborhoods, in addition to rolling them up in the municipalities, is critical to them being successful.”

Brown-Martin said the plan can’t simply be the county’s or MCDOT’s approach to street safety. “It needs to reflect the input and the involvement of the people who live in this community.”

The committee unanimously supported applying for this federal grant, and the full board is expected to ultimately give its approval.

Update: After this story was published, MCDOT released a new, corrected report stating that it would apply for $1,000,000 in grant funding. Not $500,000. The story has been updated to reflect that.

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