Initial estimates to move gas and electric utilities were estimated at roughly $50 million, however, Milwaukee city engineer Jeff Polenske said as the planning process has moved forward, that number is likely to come way down.
“We’re going through the process of working with those utilities to identify their concerns and hopefully creatively address and minimize those concerns in the design phase and that never gets played out in the public,” he said. “The public simply doesn’t understand the process. When the numbers that come out for some of the bigger freeway projects that happen within the city, there are estimates of hundreds of millions of dollars of utility costs at the front end, but then they came down to $10 to $20 million in the end. Yeah, it’s still a big impact, but not nearly as much as the utility cost estimate at the beginning.”
The city of Cincinnati recently completed bidding for work on its proposed $125.4 million 3.6-mile streetcar line, however, after receiving the bids, the project is now expected to run $22.7 million over budget. The revelation means Cincinnati leaders will need to decide if they want to continue the project and find extra funds, or end it now, but planners have already whittled the overrun costs down to about $17 million.
“One of the problems is we underestimated the amount of staging and how much staging would need to take place to move the project across nearly a 4-mile path,” said Meg Olberding, director of communication for the city of Cincinnati. “It was a much different kind of construction, bigger than we anticipated, but the bidders saw that basically multiple teardowns and setups were needed that we had not anticipated.”
David Johnson, co-founder of Streetcar Neighbors, which advocates in favor of the Kansas City streetcar, said he ran the “ground game” for the election in that city where voters gave a slim approval to moving forward on the project.
Unlike other cities where streetcar projects have become political footballs, Johnson said the Kansas City Common Council has been moving forward with unanimous votes on the project, which helped it move forward without the friction of political gridlock.
“The interesting thing about ours is we had an election where a yes vote was a yes to support this, while Milwaukee and Cincinnati didn’t,” he said. “I don’t know if that would have helped them and I’m not of the mind that a city needs to go out and get voter approval for everything because that’s what representative government is for, but yeah, it’s different here.”
To streetcars go the spoils
Where planners and politicians have gotten past the political jockeying and naysayers, the payoffs abound.
In 2003, Sound Transit beganoperation of Tacoma Link, a 1.6-mile, five-stop streetcar line through the downtown area and the line has become so popular a sixth stop was even added in 2011.