Thursday, May 06, 2010

Study committee backs streetcar for Milwaukee

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Efforts to establish streetcar or light rail service in Wisconsin’s largest city, stymied for years by state and county opposition, got a boost Thursday when a Milwaukee study committee, in a 3-1 vote, approved preliminary engineering on a $95.8 million streetcar for downtown.

The project would seek Federal Transit Administration approval for the engineering work on the streetcar, which seeks to linkdowntown attractions to the lower east side beginning in 2013. Mayor Tom Barrett has been a champion for the project since 2007, but has been hampered by county and state officials claiming the streetcar diverts funding local road funding and/or bus services.

Opposition from the committee was voiced by Brian Dranzik,administration director for the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation and Public Works. His superior, County Executive Scott Walker, has been a steadfast opponent of rail transit. Echoing supposed negatives heard in other U.S. cities in past years, Dranzik claimed streetcars would steal riders andstate aid from the existing bus system.

Milwaukee City Public Works Commissioner Jeff Mantes countered by noting LRT and streetcar systems elsewhere in the U.S. has complemented and increased bus ridership, instead of competing with it, and that the current state transit aid system would not put the streetcar line in direct competition with the county buses for dollars.