Jan. 19--Milwaukee's decision to alter its proposed streetcar route -- which has since been approved by the Federal Transit Administration -- will have no impact on the project's ability to support development, according to the city's engineer.
In a filing with the Public Service Commission, city engineer Jeff Polenske wrote Milwaukee needs a starter streetcar system with "modern vehicle technology that circulates people around downtown, links downtown destinations, activity centers and neighborhoods and supports planned development."
Splitting the route into parallel one-way segments would only require northbound passengers to walk an extra block, Polenske said.
Last week, city officials disclosed that the FTA decided the proposed route from the lower east side to the Milwaukee Intermodal Station won't have a significant environmental impact.
The city has allocated $64.6 million -- funded by $54.9 million in federal aid and $9.7 million from a tax incremental financing district -- to pay for construction of a modern streetcar line. The first phase of the route has streetcars traveling south on N. Broadway and north on N. Milwaukee St., between E. Wells St. and E. St. Paul Ave.
The change, to a split route on Broadway and Milwaukee, was made to "eliminate impacts to the regional communications hub and impacts to the steam facility, gas mains and electric facilities," Polenske wrote in the PSC filing.
The costs to relocate utilities initially had been estimated at $55 million to $65 million, Polenske said. Since then, the city has been in ongoing negotiations with We Energies, AT&T and other utilities to find ways to minimize the impact. Changing one part of the route was a major step in that direction, Polenske said.
Polenske said in the PSC filing that Milwaukee's downtown is a large area with dispersed activity centers that has experienced a resurgence in new development.
"Milwaukee's downtown lacks high-quality transit that circulates people around downtown and adjacent neighborhoods and destinations. Improved transit services and facilities are needed to support local land use and development goals and objectives."
Polenske said the route change saved an estimated $10 million in AT&T relocation costs and reduced additional expenses by avoiding the need to move an estimated 2,000 feet of steam tunnels and 2,000 feet of electrical ducts.
Polenske said in an interview that current work and planning revolves around reducing utility costs further, and that will determine the construction schedule. He wasn't sure if the city will be able to break ground this year.
Opponents of the streetcar have asked the PSC to step in and stop the project, after a bill was signed into law last summer by Gov. Scott Walker barring utility ratepayers from having to bear any costs for the project.
The city contends that an existing city ordinance requires utilities and other affected companies to bear the costs of modifying or relocating their facilities to accommodate city public works projects. The streetcar project falls under that ordinance, city officials say.
David Fladeboe, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, said in an email that "it seems like Mayor (Tom) Barrett is the only one that actually wants this streetcar.
"Hopefully the PSC stops him from pushing the cost onto the entire region. The mayor should be focusing on any number of the issues facing Milwaukee instead of pushing a streetcar no one wants," Fladeboe said.
"We will continue to fight for the hardworking taxpayers of Milwaukee and oppose the Streetcar Named Disaster."
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