Graham Kilmer

BRT Grant Could Fund Downtown Plaza

New $2 million federal grant frees up funds for downtown upgrades along Bus Rapid Transit line.

By - Feb 28th, 2023 10:19 am
Vel R. Phillips Plaza rendering. Rendering by TKWA UrbanLab.

Vel R. Phillips Plaza rendering. Rendering by The Kubala Washatko Architects.

The Milwaukee County East-West Bus Rapid Transit was recently awarded just over $2 million by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

This funding comes after most of the project has been developed and would cover some of the cost for the Battery Electric Buses (BEBs) that will run along the new route. The county did not have to apply for these funds; rather, they were awarded directly by the FTA, according to a report by the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation (MCDOT).

The $2.09 million grant comes from the same federal umbrella program that provided a $41 million Small-Starts Grant, which funded most of the $55 million project.

With this new funding, the county can free up an equivalent amount of funds that were on the books for purchasing buses and invest it elsewhere in the project. MCDOT is proposing that the funds be used “to provide additional funding for anticipated BRT amenities at the upcoming Vel R. Phillips Plaza and the Couture Development” in Downtown.

MCDOT officials did not respond to a request for comment on what the funding would go toward at these two sites.

The East-West BRT will run for nine miles between downtown Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Complex in Wauwatosa. A significant chunk of the route runs along Wisconsin Avenue. The proposed site for the Vel R. Philips Plaza, 401 W. Wisconsin Ave., is a city-owned parking lot at the corner of N. Vel R. Philips and W. Wisconsin Ave. And The Couture, a 44-story tower being built at 909 E. Michigan St., will eventually include a BRT station making up the route’s eastern terminus.

The plaza was initially proposed by the city in 2019 as part of a future extension for the streetcar. The cost for the plaza was estimated at approximately $5 million then and the city was also seeking a private developer to build a structure on the site. In 2022, the city negotiated $750,000 for the plaza as part of the development deal with Fiserv Inc. for its new downtown headquarters.

City officials have said the plaza could be built before the streetcar is extended through it. The plaza would be named for Wisconsin civil rights pioneer Vel Phillips, for whom the adjacent N. 4th St. was renamed for in 2018.

The proposal for this funding will require approval from the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, who will consider it in March.

The East-West BRT is designed to be a faster, more efficient bus service, compared to traditional fixed bus routes. To achieve this, a mix of dedicated lanes, fewer stops and traffic signal priority are incorporated, as well as elevated platforms built out with new technology like off-board fare validators and digital real-time bus arrival signs.

2019 Plaza Renderings

2019 Plaza Site Photos

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4 thoughts on “Transportation: BRT Grant Could Fund Downtown Plaza”

  1. Kevin Bereswill says:

    I wish that they would use the grant to physically separate the dedicated lanes from the other traffic lanes. BRT is valuable because of the dedicated lanes. We should protect them to ensure that they can’t be blocked/used by other traffic

  2. The benefit of the transit hub at The Couture will be magnified even more by the full development of the Lakefront Gateway Plaza project connecting the Couture transit hub to the Lakefront walking and bicycle transit paths. Passengers on the BRT and Hop streetcar would then be able to easily access the year-round appeal of the Lakefront, its parks and museums (Milwaukee Art Museum and Discovery World, Veterans Park and Lakeshore State Park), and the many events at the Summerfest ground. This Lakefront Gateway Plaza has been long planned, and these funds could help this key project unleash the full potential of the transit hub as well as the transit lines serving it.

  3. Kevin Bereswill says:

    @John December – or that! I feel like the Wisconsin Ave plaza should fall in priority until we’re able to fund the streetcar extension.

  4. Polaris says:

    Yeah, I guess I might opt for waiting until the streetcar is built, unless the City finally gets a project to break ground on the site before then.

    Speaking of, I had to double-check this but the old Randolph Hotel was demolished at the site in 1985, nary a month after I graduated from Marquette. Thirty-eight years ago. I’m now 60, and I’ve been waiting…

    The Randolph was 58 years old when it was demolished. It has been gone for nearly two-thirds the time is existed. I have existed for two years longer than the hotel did. Sheesh…!

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