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Milwaukee - December 2018

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Milwaukee — Extension Not Receiving Federal Grant

December 2018

Milwaukee again was not awarded a federal grant to extend the streetcar system to Fiserv Forum, a project city officials had considered fast-tracking to start service in 2020.

City officials had studied ways to have the arena line built and running in time for the Democratic National Convention in summer 2020, if it comes to Milwaukee. The extension would run mostly on Vel R. Phillips Avenue between St. Paul Avenue and the arena on Juneau Avenue.

It is expected to cost $40 million. Milwaukee officials in October applied for a federal grant to cover half the cost.

Milwaukee’s application was among 851 for a competitive U.S. Department of Transportation grant program. Awards were announced this week. The only Wisconsin winner is rehab work along state Highway 29 in Brown County, which received $19.8 million.

The arena extension cannot be built without that federal grant money, so its future timeline is in question.

A written statement by Milwaukee Department of Public Works commissioner Jeff Polenske said it was disappointing not to get the grant this year, but “we remain very optimistic about the future of the project and the prospects for expansion.”

“We’re continuing to move forward with our preliminary engineering and utility coordination activities for the extension towards Bronzeville and will continue seeking out additional funding sources to move the project forward,” Polenske said.

The line to Fiserv Forum would be followed by future extensions farther north along North Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the Bronzeville neighborhood at North Avenue.

This is the second time Milwaukee has sought construction money for the arena extension through that federal program. It also did not make the cut in 2016.

The city would use tax incremental financing to pay for the local $20 million share of the arena line’s construction cost. That TIF proposal would use property taxes generated by a new development moving forward at the city-owned parking lot at Fourth Street and West Wisconsin Avenue. The city still does not have a viable development proposal for that site, so the local funding source is not yet concrete.

The initial line of the Milwaukee streetcar started service in early November, and in its first weeks beat projections for ridership. Most of the track already is built for the next phase of the streetcar, which would reach the downtown lakefront via Michigan and Clybourn streets. That phase was built using a $14.2 million federal DOT grant that was awarded in 2015. The city had to apply twice to secure that grant.

The lakefront line is to start service in late 2020. That’s a year later than the city had first anticipated. The delay is because the lakefront line’s central stop would be in the ground floor of the Couture apartment high-rise along North Lincoln Memorial Drive. That project was held up waiting for approval to use a different federal financing program. It secured that approval in early November.

More on the extension plans is in an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Click here for that story.


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