Thursday, May 16, 2013

Milwaukee defies state opposition to streetcar

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Milwaukee is one of at least three U.S. cities pursuing streetcar development despite questioning, and sometimes outright opposition, from those cities' state governments, and Wisconsin's largest urban municipality is adjusting its plans accordingly.

Countering a move by Gov. Scott Walker to strangle the project financially, city officials are moving to reduce the amount of utility relocation required for streetcar construction. A pending state budget proposal would force Milwaukee to pay the cost of moving private utilities for the downtown streetcar, currently also an ongoing struggle in Cincinnati.

The $64.6 million project does include federal funding, but state officials seek to obstruct construction by requiring Milwaukee to pay any utility relocation costs. Actual cost estimates will be available later this summer, when engineers submit the 60% design phase of the project, city officials said.

The streetcar, 2.1 miles in length, would link Milwaukee Intermodal Station (served by Amtrak and both local and intercity buses) with downtown and the city's lower east side.

Local media report City Engineer Jeff Polenske submitted an update Wednesday to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC), reporting that adverse impacts to energy provicer We Energies would be reduced 90% on steam tunnels, 75% on gas lines, 30%t on electrical conduits, 50% on electrical manholes, and 70% on access vaults to the steam tunnels.

"This is just with the early conversations we've had and with some of the early options we've devised," Polenske said. "We're not done yet. We're in the middle of coordination efforts."

Milwaukee also will eliminate $10 million in relocation costs to AT&T's communication vaults under North Broadway with a new track alignment, Polenske said. The city plans to move a northbound streetcar track from Broadway to North Milwaukee Street, avoiding the AT&T vaults and relocation costs.

Milwaukee's efforts to launch an initial streetcar line have been stymied for years by officials in the city's namesake county, and more recently at the state level, citing cost issues and concerns that the streetcar would advsersely impact bus ridership. Countering that effort, the Federal Transit Administration issued a “finding of no significant impact” (FONSI) for the proposed route in January 2012.