Joe Davis, Sr.
Press Release

The Reasonable Alternative to the Downtown Streetcar

Statement from Alderman Joe Davis, Sr.

By - Jan 16th, 2015 12:25 pm

It’s time to put rhetoric aside and place a proposal on the table on why the African American community should defeat the downtown Streetcar system and require Mayor Barrett to invest the $55 million of federal funding in the area of greatest need. Let’s focus on the longstanding allocation from the federal government to the Milwaukee area that recognized that the minority community needed an improved transportation system for employment opportunities based upon our negative unemployment and poverty rate, and that development was occurring in the suburban communities around the Milwaukee metro area.

Proponents of the downtown Streetcar project WILL NOT tell you that the 30th Street Industrial Corridor has an existing rail line, and right-of-way, that runs from the I-94 corridor north to the northwest side boundaries of the City of Milwaukee with multiple junctions that could be used, and modified, for passenger rail transportation. Now, before the critics start saying this can’t be done, the City of Austin has a similar system where the passenger rail system runs during the day, while the goods and services of cargo runs during designated evening schedules; a partnership! This is REALLY where the federal funding should be put first as a starter system because it would serve the original intent, getting a segment of the minority community to employment opportunities.

The downtown Streetcar proposal has a $7.5 million taxpayer appropriation for a maintenance facility downtown, but the Century City site has an existing maintenance facility that the City of Milwaukee already has money invested in from the creation of the Century City tax incremental district at the former Talgo site. So why aren’t we fighting to fund transportation in the community of greatest needs which would spur tremendous economic and redevelopment opportunities in adjacent distressed neighborhoods along the corridor, energize business growth for long term and permanent employment opportunities for area residents, and put the funding where it was intended to be, and serving the population it was intended to serve.

Furthermore, the downtown Streetcar proposal has a taxpayer cost of $100 million for the tracks to be installed for the proposed project. In the 30th Street Industrial Corridor, there are existing tracks for rail that are not in the public right-of-way and will serve the purpose of a system that can be faster and will not impede vehicular or pedestrian traffic. Also for example, the rail overpass at Capitol Drive, between 34th Street and Hopkins Street, could be a signature transportation plaza which may allow us to work with the State of Wisconsin for development grants because Capitol Drive is a state highway (Hwy. 190). Best of all, all of this work can be done with no liability to the taxpayers for expensive utility relocations.

I’m disappointed in the self-defeating attitude of leaders who say if it is not used downtown and not used on the Streetcar project, that the USDOT would allocate the funding to go somewhere else. Our expectation should be that USDOT sent the federal funding to us for a specific reason and we intend to keep our commitment to the original requirement of addressing the transportation needs for the City of Milwaukee’s minority community. Site Selector Magazine indicated that transportation infrastructure ranks number two on the top 10 “Most Important Site Selection Criteria for Employers,” which is essential for Milwaukee to attract manufacturing and industrial based companies to the 30th Street Industrial Corridor.

Finally, the proposed scheme of the downtown Streetcar project that takes $40 million of funding from the Milwaukee Public Schools is disingenuous and detrimental to the same population of children we condemn to some of Milwaukee’s violent neighborhoods. Milwaukee’s longstanding economic and social conditions of poverty, unemployment, and mass incarceration have plagued areas of this city for far too long and we have an opportunity to give a shot of reality to those who continue to minimize the areas of greatest needs and then try to justify it by saying, “We’ll get to you later.”

We can’t wait.

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5 thoughts on “The Reasonable Alternative to the Downtown Streetcar”

  1. Rich says:

    Joe’s banking on no one remembering the language of 1991 allocation of transportation dollars isn’t he? Convenient how it just became specifically for Milwaukee’s minority community and not Southeastern Wisconsin as a whole. Bait and switch, divide and conquer, rewrite history, anything to make it look good for you, right Joe?

    Ok, fine, you want to talk 30th st, here we go: They couldn’t figure out how to safely and timely get up to the Talgo site for maintenance on the overnight gap between Amtrak schedules, so clearly the corridor needs infrastructure investment. Plus, now you’re talking full-size heavy rail vehicles built to FRA standards so they can co-mingle with freight. And don’t think you’ll just get happy agreement from Canadian Pacific, WSOR, and Canadian National railroads to “move their operations to night time”. Got all that taken care of, super…Now where does it go again? It picks people up from where they live and takes them to as-yet-non-existent jobs in the 30th st corridor? The corridor is max 7 miles long (Highland Blvd to Silver Spring), are you stopping every mile?. And great, let’s connet it to downtown so everyone can get off there and go where? Sure would be nice if they could step off the train at the intermodal facility and get on a streetcar to circulate themselves to their eventual destination.

    Stop feeding people lies in the hope that they’ll believe you.

  2. Tom D says:

    I have always liked the idea of putting passenger rail (stopping at every intersecting bus route—about every half mile), but this should be done IN ADDITION to the streetcar, not in place of it.

    In fact, putting rail transit on the 30th Street corridor might ONLY work if the streetcar is in place.

    But Ald. Davis is wrong about costs. Putting rail transit on this corridor would probably cost EVEN MORE than the streetcar.

    First, the tracks are privately owned, and those owners must be compensated, either through purchase or continuing rent payments.

    Second, because of ADA, new elevated train stations require elevators (for wheel-chair passengers), which are expensive both to build and to maintain. In NYC, subway elevators are often commandeered by homeless individuals to sleep in and sometimes used as toilets (since they are private and totally enclosed). Preventing this would involve large, ever-lasting, security costs (see next point).

    Third, these elevated stations would incur significant, on-going security costs. Unlike streetcar stations (which are in full view of passing motorists), elevated train stations are secluded and very insecure-feeling places if devoid of people.

    Fourth, federal law does not permit freight rail to co-exist with anything other than heavy commuter (Metra-type) or intercity (Amtrak-type) trains. Light rail (or streetcar rail) is never allowed on the same tracks as freight trains.

    This would require either that Milwaukee rail transit use heavy rail (probably with two crew members which makes it twice as expensive to operate as a bus or streetcar), or designating (and fencing off) specific tracks for light-rail use only.

    Fifth, to do this right, the trains should be electric, not diesel. Electric trains accelerate much faster than diesel, greatly reducing the time lost by stopping every half mile. Electric trains are also more environmentally friendly, have lower ongoing maintenance costs, are more easily “scalable” (single-car diesel trains are very inefficient.) But electric train infrastructure costs money (one reason the streetcar is so expensive).

    Sixth, what happens at the southern end of the corridor? Does it just end at Vliet Street or does it continue to downtown along the same tracks used by Amtrak’s Empire Builder? I think to be truly useful, it needs to reach downtown, but this would be VERY expensive since those tracks (unlike the 30th Street Corridor tracks) are heavily used and might require laying new tracks (and perhaps condemning and acquiring land).

    Seventh, even if it reaches the Intermodal Station downtown (and if it doesn’t it won’t be of much use), it needs good transit connecting it to the rest of downtown. The Streetcar is the only proposed solution to this need. (MCTS has never run any frequent bus routes to the Intermodal Station, and has never run any service connecting the Intermodal Station to much of downtown.)

  3. State Rep Josh Zepnick says:

    Thanks Rich and Tom D, for beating me to the punch on your smart analysis. Joe Davis is so full of his own b.s. its not funny. He needs to take more trips outside Milwaukee (if thats possible), to see how transit is done right. Rich brings up the facts: you are not going to get an “easier” fix, by mixing passenger rail and freight rail, the latter is maxed out right now. Trains are full of goods needed for Milwaukee manufacturing, particularly our energy supply. the need to upgrade rail beds, crossings, bridges, is overdue and expensive. Davis shows zero understanding of today’s realities. His plan would nto only cost more taxpayer dollars than the Downtown streetcar, as pointed out above, it would take years to implement. But, on political front. Where was Joe’s leadership, when we tried to creat an RTA and extend Metra service to Milwaukee?? Nowhere to be found. Did he call to task County Board Chair Lee Holloway or Transportation Chair Mike Mayor when they put roadblock and empty rhetoric one time after another during that debate?! He obviously could not convince, his new Republican friends who want to kill the streetcar and anything Barrett, Walker et al to KEEP THE HIGH SPEED RAIL that we invested millions of taxpayer dollars to move forward. So there went hopes, dreams on 30th street. Which both of the writers above hit the nail on head: who is goint to ride this new train? What does it connect people to? What job centers? what retail attractions or tourist destinations? Good grief…I cannot name one location on the corridor I would go to by car, bus or train. Put simply. Joe is using revisionist history to demagogue this project, for political “gain”. His plan would cost taxpayers more. His plan would jeopardize manufacturing and energy companies throughout Southeast wisconsin, and he again makes his “community” look like fools. Late to the table, nothing to offer but this useless diatribe about how bad things are for Black people….something that he apparently bears no responsibility for fixing, but the rest of us evil doers should do backflips to remedy?. I have one the most ethnically diverse districts in Milwaukee. Old school white european, incoming immigrants from Pakistan, India, Laos, Serbia, Poland, Russia, central America and Mexico and various Asian-American and African-American folks. as a grandson of a Greek immigrant, I love it and I am proud of all their contributions to Milwaukee. If anyone thinks they might have a question or two about a Downtown Streetcar….I can guarantee you they ain’t lifting a finger or paying a dime, for a 7 mile train going through some of the city’s highest crime neigbhorhoods.

  4. John R. Thomas says:

    I have made a similar proposal to the Mayor with more detail. The Wisconsin Southern Railroad does run from downtown
    north and west through Waukesha and into Washington Counties. Hartford has a huge industrial park on the west side
    served by a rail siding. All of the industries along this route must post job openings and the qualifications for those jobs.
    Training may possibly be available via the Presidents tech school program. Advertising must be posted in libraries, churches as well as online. The jobs, applicants, and training must be held 100% accountable on all sides or it will fall apart. The trains would be one-car-selfpropelled. This would be an opportunity for the unemployed that are willing to work hard that
    can not afford to drive great distances…to get ahead. AND prove to everyone that they can pull themselves up by the
    bootstraps and get out of the life long rut of unemployment. Success would not make them unqualified. Any one
    needing transportation would not be denied a seat.

  5. Rich says:

    We can only assume Joe will be at the Charrette with his pitch then….Not holding breath.

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