Graham Kilmer

27th Street Rapid Bus Route Would Launch In 2028

MCTS working to enter federal grant process to develop second bus rapid transit line.

By - Dec 6th, 2023 12:26 pm

MCTS Connect 1 at Wisconsin Avenue Stop. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Milwaukee County Transportation officials are hoping the second bus rapid transit (BRT) project they’re planning will be ready for federal funding by the end of 2024, and that the service will be up and running by 2028.

Recommended route for proposed north-south bus rapid transit service.

The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) has begun planning a new, 18-mile bus rapid transit service that will run north and south primarily along 27th Street. The route for the proposed BRT service was unveiled in 2022 and, going north to south, runs from Bayshore Town Center in Glendale to the Ikea store in Franklin.

MCTS officials and their consultants from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and the engineering consultant HNTB have completed some of the critical early steps to getting a large transit project ready for federal funding.

Officials are working closely with the Federal Transit Administration, the federal agency that would award grant funding for the project, said Carolyn Seboe, a project manager with HNTB, county board committee meeting Tuesday. The project is currently in the middle of an environmental review, and design work, including traffic modeling, has already begun, Seboe told the board’s Committee on Transportation and Transit.

The plan is to apply for federal funding, most likely a Small Starts grant, by the end of 2024, said David Locher, MCTS enhanced transit manager.

We want to have shovels in the ground in 2026 and then pick up our first passenger in 2028,” Locher said.

The county used a Small Starts grant to fund 80% of the project cost for the Connect 1, with a 20% local match. MCTS is expecting such a funding split again, and some of the money that has already been spent on planning can count toward the local match, Locher said.

The transit system has already held 23 local stakeholder meetings and participated in 14 community events through its marketing consultant, Abrazo Marketing. And MCTS is planning to begin holding public hearings in late January or early February 2024.

The new BRT service would be twice as long as the Connect 1 bus rapid transit service that launched in June, with 64 stations serving 32 stops compared to the 33 stations along the Connect 1. The new service would offer a connection to 55% of MCTS bus routes and would intersect with Connect 1 at the intersection of N. 27th Street and W. Wisconsin Avenue.

The new BRT service, as designed, “radiates from an epicenter at 27th and Wisconsin, to really make that kind of the new tentpole of the Milwaukee County Transit System,” Locher said.

The planned route would service 51,000 jobs and 116,000 county residences across five municipalities, according to an analysis by SEWRPC, which also found that 27% of residents along the route live in poverty and one in five households do not have a car.

The Connect 1 serves as the “proof of concept,” Locher said. Even before it became public, MCTS officials have long considered the 27th Street corridor ripe for a transit enhancement. An overarching goal of the project is to reduce end to end travel by approximately 10 to 15 minutes and increase bus frequency from one bus every 15 minutes to one every 10 minutes. Additionally, the transit service will include new transit technologies and dedicated bus lanes that distinguish it from other regular fixed bus routes.

MCTS plans to use the lessons from Connect 1 and improve upon the service for the BRT route through the 27th Street corridor, Locher said.

Battery Electric Buses?

The Connect 1 was launched with plans to operate the service entirely with battery electric buses (BEBs). But the transit system is still waiting to receive all of the BEBs it ordered and top transit officials have expressed disappointment and distrust in the technology.

In August, MCTS pulled all its BEBs from service for a factory recall to replace their batteries. They had been in service for less than three months.

Locher told supervisors early estimates show it would take 39 BEBs to operate the planned BRT service entirely with electric buses. MCTS is currently working on a range of options for policymakers to consider for the route, including other technologies and mixed fleets running diesel and electric buses.

Route Map

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One thought on “Transportation: 27th Street Rapid Bus Route Would Launch In 2028”

  1. Colin says:

    Exciting! Can’t wait to see BRT on 27th St.

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