WI: County Board Approves Transit Suit Settlement

May 22--While the Milwaukee County Board unanimously approved an agreement Thursday that will connect people living in Milwaukee's central city with suburban jobs, some supervisors bemoaned the manner by which the deal was struck.

"Shame on us," Patricia Jursik told her fellow supervisors.

"Shame on the state."

The agreement requires the state to pay up to $11.5 million over four years for new bus routes and $2 million over four years for marketing the routes.

The agreement will not cost Milwaukee County residents a dime.

"Whatever the county spends," Corporation Counsel Paul Bargen said, "will be paid by the state."

Jursik called it a welcomed infusion of funds for the financially strapped county transit system. It is unfortunate the agreement is the result not of county and state support for urban transit systems but rather of a federal lawsuit, she said.

The suit was filed in 2012 on behalf of Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope and the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, who argued that the $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange reconstruction and expansion project failed to provide for residents who rely on public transportation.

The state Department of Transportation announced Monday it had reached a settlement agreement with the community groups. While the county was not a party to the suit, the County Board had to authorize the county transit system to contract with the state.

"This is a hell of a way to fund your transit system -- to rely on a lawsuit," Jursik said in an interview.

Transit policy aside, Patricia McManus, president of the Black Health Coalition, called the agreement "good news for a community that has the sad distinction of having a black male unemployment rate higher than 50%."

"It is hoped that through the course of the funded four years, the importance of the routes will be readily seen by the involved counties and the state and efforts will be made to secure other funding for the continuation of the bus routes," she said.

The Rev. Willie Brisco, president of MICAH, said, "This is one of the beginning steps in a thousand mile journey to expand transportation outside the boundaries of Milwaukee County.

"This allows bridges to be built between communities, thus giving way to us working together for the benefit of all," he said.

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