Thursday, September 26, 2013

Milwaukee streetcar opponents urge action

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Opponents of Milwaukee's proposed startup streetcar line have formally filed a petition with the Wisconsins Public Service Commission, urging the PSC to decide whether the project can proceed, in what appears to be an all-or-nothing gambit to kill the proposal.

PSC spokesman Nathan Conrad told local media there is no deadline for the PSC to act on the issue, and there is no estimate for when the commission may make a ruling on the streetcar's legality.

Assistant City Attorney Tom Miller said in a statement that the city disagreed with a legal petition challenging the city's right to proceed with the project. Gov. Walker signed a measure banning utility ratepayers from having to bear any costs, such as utility relocation expenses, for any proposed streetcar – a move seen by pro-rail advocates as one way to kill the project.

But, Miller said, "The PSC has no authority to stop the streetcar project nor the authority to resolve completely the controversy over who pays for utility relocation costs in the public streets."

The city last January filed its report with the PSC. In January 2012, the Federal Transit Administration issued a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for the proposed route. 

The planned 2.1-mile streetcar line, supported by Milwaukee city officials but opposed by Milwaukee County and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, has progressed to the design phase, with negotiations ongoing between the city and local utilities on the cost of relocating underground infrastructure, similar to prolonged negotiations among comparable parties in Cincinnati.

Milwaukee has allocated $64.6 million to the project, including $54.9 million in federal funding and $9.7 million from a tax incremental financing district for contruction of the line, linking the city's lower east side and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, served by buses and Amtrak. The city hopes to begin construction early next year.