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Milwaukee - March 2009

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Milwaukee — Congressional Maneuver Unlocks Streetcar Funding

Rail Transit Online, March 2009

An unpublicized effort by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl and Rep. David Obey has finally unlocked $91.5 million in federal transit funding, some 60 percent of which is due to be used for a downtown loop equipped with modern streetcars. The money was appropriated by Congress in 1991 but remained frozen because of an impasse between Barrett and County Executive Scott Walker; the mayor wanted some type of light rail or streetcar system but Walker insisted the whole amount be spent on bus improvements.

With the funding about to expire, Kohl and Obey, urged on by Barrett, quietly placed a provision in the recently-passed $410-billion federal omnibus spending bill requiring that $54.9 million be spent by the city on the downtown streetcar scheme. The remainder was given to Milwaukee County for the bus system, blindsiding Walker.

"It's just an end-around," Walker told BizTimes Daily. "And it's not just an end-around me, it's an end-around the County Board. The board has gone on record supporting bus rapid transit. The fact that the mayor on his own is doing this just seems to me to be an end-around the whole process. There's nothing we can do."

The streetcar loop would be a starter line about three miles (4.8 km) long, connecting local traffic generators with the Amtrak and Greyhound bus station. One potential alignment shows two-way operation on Juneau Avenue, 4th Street, St. Paul Avenue and a one-way couplet on Jackson and Van Buren streets.

Questions concerning the exact route, capital cost, station locations and funding sources could be answered by year's end through the Milwaukee Connector study which is now underway. During the past 18 years, officials have discussed and rejected numerous transit modes including BRT, light rail, guided electric buses and HOV lanes on Interstate 94.



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