Jeramey Jannene

Ride Along On Streetcar Extension Before It Opens

City shows off "L Line" to lakefront before Oct. 29 opening.

By - Oct 11th, 2023 05:37 pm
A streetcar operator on The Hop. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A streetcar operator on The Hop. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee’s first streetcar extension is ready for passengers.

The Department of Public Works took media members on a test run Wednesday afternoon of the “L Line,” a lakefront extension of The Hop.

Service will open to the public on Oct. 29 and continue, initially, only on Sundays. Full daily service along the route is expected to begin in April 2024, when the lower half of the 44-story The Couture tower is completed and open to its first residents.

The extension includes three new stops: an eastbound stop at E. Michigan St. and N. Jackson St., a lakefront stop in the base of The Couture and a westbound stop at E. Clybourn St. and N. Jefferson St. The vehicle will proceed through The Couture initially, but will not stop in the building.

In addition to the east-west lakefront extension, the L Line will use existing track and stations on N. Milwaukee Street and N. Broadway between E. Kilbourn and E. St. Paul avenues. The existing M Line will continue to serve the full 2.1-mile route.

Operating between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., the L Line will operate with a 20-minute headway (frequency).

The long-delayed and now one-day-a-week start can be traced back to delays with The Couture itself. The developers of the apartment tower struggled to secure financing, then encountered construction issues that extended the construction timeline by many months.

The extension was approved and funded alongside the initial route in 2015, with much of the track work completed alongside the base route’s 2018 opening. The Couture delays ultimately imperiled a 2015 federal grant for the line, requiring the city to seek an extension from Congress in 2022 on the $14.2 million grant.

When asked after Wednesday’s ride, Department of Public Works Commissioner Jerrel Kruschke didn’t explicitly say the federal grant was why the city was starting service now in such a limited fashion.

“We have had many conversations with the [Federal Transit Administration], and, really, it just comes down to providing as much access as we can to our citizens,” said Kruschke. He said the limited start would familiarize operators with the line, ensure the schedule works as expected and build public understanding of how the route works.

The grant was scheduled to expire at the end of September 2022, but Congress granted a one-year extension. A revised development agreement for The Couture called for service to start by Oct. 31, 2023. Most of the line was completed prior to the M Line’s 2018 opening, but construction on The Couture didn’t begin until 2021.

“We worked with the contractor to open one day a week,” said Kruschke. He said Saturday could be added in 2024 before the full service begins. “We don’t want to hinder or delay The Couture, so it is a challenge.”

On the ride Wednesday, the streetcar operator needed to be waved through portions of the construction site by construction personnel.

Kruschke said Kiewet, the contractor that built the streetcar system, has completed the entire station inside the building, but passengers on the platform wouldn’t have anywhere to go because the surrounding area is still an active construction site.

The full extension adds approximately 0.7 miles of new, one-way track.

Testing of the route has occurred this summer as a contracting team completed the guideway for the fixed-rail system. Much of the L Line will operate without an overhead wire, with the vehicles running on battery power. The $29.2 million route’s funding allocation was part of the original $128.1 million streetcar system.

The 2023 city budget calls for $4.9 million to be spent on operating the streetcar system. That expense is to be offset by $3.5 million in direct revenue, with the remainder coming from the city’s parking revenue. Direct revenue sources include Potawatomi Hotel & Casino ($833,333), other sponsors ($390,000), a federal pandemic-related transit grant ($2.1 million) and a federal transit support grant ($214,000).

The system is free to ride. Kruschke said the city continues to evaluate farebox options.

Ridership has climbed year-over-year for 29 straight months. But that streak is imperiled by a factor outside of The Hop’s control. A late August water main break in the middle of the route shuttered the system, and closed a handful of nearby buildings, for approximately a week. Buses were used for a portion of the period.



Route Map

L Line route laid atop existing M Line route. Image from The Hop website.

L Line route laid atop existing M Line route. Image from The Hop website.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

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

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us