WI: PSC Ruling on Streetcar to Cover Utilities, Not Phone Companies

Feb. 17—Milwaukee Power Companies — but not telecommunications companies — will be covered by a Public Service Commission decision on who should pay the costs of moving their lines out of the way of the planned Milwaukee Streetcar route, the commission ruled Friday.

That goes beyond the PSC's original stand that its decision would apply only to We Energies, but not as far as an administrative law judge's ruling to extend the decision to all public utilities.

Utilities have estimated it could cost more than $55 million to move their lines out of the way of the modern streetcar's downtown route. City officials have said they're working with the utilities to hold down that cost, while disputing whether the city or the utilities would pay any remaining cost.

Streetcar opponent Brett Healy of Oconomowoc has asked the PSC to decide the question, fearing the utilities would pass their costs on to ratepayers. Commissioners first said the case would focus on We Energies, whose rates are regulated by the PSC, and not on the deregulated telecommunications utilities.

All the other utilities intervened in the case, however, as did the city and groups representing businesses, utility customers and local governments. Administrative Law Judge Michael Newmark ruled Feb. 2 that all of them would be bound by the decision, over the objections of attorneys representing the city and the PSC itself.

On Friday, the three-member PSC unanimously decided to broaden the case to cover American Transmission Co. as well, but to reiterate the commissioners' previous stand against including telecommunications companies.

The Common Council has capped the modern streetcar line's price tag at $64.6 million, which does not include the utility costs. That means city officials would have to change the route or scale back the project if the city must bear all or part of the utility costs.

Mayor Tom Barrett and aldermen have agreed to fund the streetcar project with $54.9 million in long-idle federal transit aid and $9.7 million in tax incremental financing, while using $1 fares, parking fees and sponsorships to cover the $2.65 million annual operating cost.

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