Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Proposed North-South BRT Line Loses Southern Anchor

Northwestern Mutual's Franklin campus, with 2,000 employees, was supposed to be the southernmost stop on new bus rapid transit line.

By - Feb 9th, 2023 12:34 pm
MCTS Battery Electric Bus. Photo Courtesy of MCTS.

MCTS Battery Electric Bus. Photo Courtesy of MCTS.

Just as the project to develop a second bus rapid transit (BRT) line along the 27th Street corridor entered an important, new phase of work, the planned route lost a major piece of its southern anchor.

Northwestern Mutual announced plans last week to redevelop an aging, 19-story building in downtown Milwaukee into a glassy, modern office tower. The $500 million project is part of a plan to move 2,000 employees out of its sprawling, 84-acre campus in Franklin.

That campus was planned to be a key piece of the southern turnaround point for the proposed 18-mile, $148 million North-South BRT project, and would have been the site of the southernmost BRT station. The revamped downtown building is expected to be open by 2027, which is roughly the same time the North-South BRT would launch if everyone advances according to schedule.

In 2022, planners from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) finished a feasibility study for the project and developed a recommended route and transit technology, BRT, which was then approved by the county. Taking the proposed route from north to south, the plan is for the line to run from Bayshore Town Center in Glendale, west to N. Teutonia Ave. via Silver Spring Drive, south to N. 27th St. and continuing across the city to W. Drexel Ave. and the Northwestern Mutual Franklin campus before making a loop through the nearby Ikea store property.

In January, planning officials from the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) and consultants from HNTB began work on the next phase of the project, known as project development. This phase will include a detailed design and engineering of the route as well as a thorough environmental review.

Carrie Cooper, the principal transportation planner with SEWRPC, told Urban Milwaukee that MCDOT can consider the Northwestern Mutual decision as it digs into the detailed planning of the new service. “In some ways, this is good timing,” she said, noting that this phase has just gotten underway. Cooper said SEWRPC would be adding an addendum to the feasibility study it produced for the project, noting that Northwestern Mutual has decided to leave Franklin and that the announcement came after the recommendation was adopted by the county.

“At this time, MCDOT, MCTS and HNTB have not had the opportunity to assess the impacts of Northwestern Mutual’s decision to relocate its workforce to Downtown Milwaukee,” said John Rodgers, an MCDOT official working in director Donna Brown-Martin‘s office. “Ultimately, the County must follow all mandated federal requirements to meet the criteria for federal funding. We will continue extensive public outreach and stakeholder coordination to develop the locally preferred alternative for the N-S BRT.”

The Northwestern Mutual campus represented a major job center located directly on the proposed BRT route and contributed to the number of jobs that planners estimated could be accessed by users of the proposed service. A few miles south of the campus, there are a number of business parks and job centers identified by SEWRPC along W. Ryan Rd. that wouldn’t directly connect to the future service.

In the feasibility study, SEWRPC planners noted the need for “last-mile” transit solutions between the southern leg of the BRT and the job centers in Franklin and Oak Creek. The study identified approximately 350 employers representing 10,000 jobs just out of reach of the North-South BRT route and suggested rideshare, shuttle services, fixed-route bus service or vanpool services as possible solutions.

Northwestern Mutual, in announcing its downtown proposal, said its Franklin campus would be well suited for an out-of-state employer to take over. The company’s downtown campus is at the eastern end of the East-West BRT line, now known as CONNECT, which is to begin operation later this year. The company has long been one of the biggest purchasers of MCTS’ Commuter Value Passes, an employer-sponsored bus pass program.

2 thoughts on “MKE County: Proposed North-South BRT Line Loses Southern Anchor”

  1. DanRyan86 says:

    I mean can they not just terminate it at the IKEA just east of the Northwestern Mutual Franklin Campus and then when a new tenant moves into that space shift it to the office park?

  2. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    I like DanRyan86’s idea..
    It would add some planning time and opportunity
    for where to terminate and what type of arrangement
    and level of service & facilities to provide.

    An 84-acre parcel isn’t going to stay empty forever,
    and if it’s new use or uses occur in smaller pieces,
    a more orderly scale-up of services can occur.

    The existence of a good up-and-running transit artery
    might even catalyze the reuse of that facility.
    “If you build it, they will come!?”
    A century ago in major cities, developers used to build
    trolley lines from their outlying developments to downtowns
    to boost sales.

    Meeting the transit needs south of the NML parcel
    sounds like a good idea.. Maybe Milwaukee Transit can run the show
    and share revenues with the other jurisdiction(s)
    based on GPS tracking of boarding and deboarding points.

    I don’t know where the termination (as planned or alternate)
    will be,, but if it’s on that 84-acre parcel, there should be room for a
    minor service facility, and battery swap-out if appropriate to the technology.

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