Barrett vetoes Milwaukee Connector
By OMC Staff Writers
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett vetoed the Milwaukee Connector project Wednesday afternoon, saying his move is a “call for fiscal honesty.”
Barrett sent the Milwaukee Common Council a letter outlining his objections to the bill passed Tuesday. He said the $91 million in Interstate Cost Estimate funds must be used for transit improvements, and not property tax dollars.
Next steps on this project are unknown. More than 15 similar-sized cities have already implemented modern, fixed-guideway transit systems.
The following is the full text of the letter:
May 10, 2006
To the Honorable, the Common Council of the City of Milwaukee
Honorable Members of the Common Council:
I am vetoing File Number 051610, a substitute resolution relating to the Milwaukee Connector project.
I have always been, and continue to be, a strong proponent of mass transit. Consequently, my veto should not be interpreted as an action against transit improvements. Rather, it should be interpreted as a call for fiscal honesty.
I have said that the current system needs to be upgraded and that Milwaukeeans deserve a first-class system. I have publicly stated, and the Council agrees, that no property tax dollars should be used to fund the project. I also concur with the Council that Milwaukee County Transit should manage and operate the preferred alternative.
I have been firm in my position that the remaining $91 million in Interstate Cost Estimate (ICE) funds must be used for transit improvements. As a member of Congress, I fought to secure and keep those funds in Milwaukee. If necessary, I will continue that fight.
I am exercising my veto authority for the following reasons:
- The resolution approved by the Common Council does not include a funding source for the federally required local match. The citizens of Milwaukee deserve to know specifically how the Common Council wants the $57 million local share to be paid. It’s easy to say how to spend money. The hard part is identifying where the money is going to come from. To move ahead with a $300 million alternative, without details on financing, would be fiscally irresponsible. Opponents of the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Plan Commission’s [(SEWRPC) plan to tear up Milwaukee neighborhoods for freeway expansions often cite the financial implications of the plan as their reasons for not supporting it. I count myself among that group. The same standard should be applied to the $300 million electric bus alternative.
- The funding scheme presented shows $25 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds and $127 million in federal New Start Funds. My concern is what will happen if those funds do not materialize in the amounts presented. Will the local match increase? Will the funding source identified protect against any funding shortfalls?
- I commend the Wisconsin District’s study team for its community outreach efforts. Over 300 community briefing sessions were held as well as a series of public hearings; however, more outreach and input is needed from current transit riders who, in order to reach their destination, would have to transfer multiple times should the alternative supported by the Common Council be built. These individuals and those who will lose routes and current service need to be heard from. In addition, neighborhood residents and businesses that will be impacted by the construction of overhead, electric guide wires, poles and stations, as well as the loss of on-street parking, need to fully understand what it at stake.
- Finally, there is no guarantee that the Milwaukee County Transit will manage and operate the guided electric bus alternative. The County Board resolution on the subject does not specify a preferred alternative. The County resolution states that Milwaukee County Transit should operate the preferred alternative – either the hybrid buses or the guided electric buses. If we are all in agreement that Milwaukee County Transit should operate the system, then why shouldn’t we all agree on the preferred alternative?
Common Council President Willie L. Hines, Jr. minced few words in lambasting Mayor Tom Barrett for his veto today of a resolution passed Tuesday by the Common Council supporting the Milwaukee Connector project.
“When the business leaders and citizens of this city looked to Mayor Barrett for leadership, he offered none,” said Ald. Hines. “It’s disappointing that when the City of Milwaukee had the opportunity to move into the 21st century, this mayor is driving a Studebaker stuck in the 1950s,” Ald. Hines said. “This is a $ 300 million project funded largely with federal and state dollars, and it is a system that will be built by Milwaukeeans for Milwaukeeans. How the Mayor of Milwaukee would be opposed to such a project is mind boggling.”
The Milwaukee Connector is a 13-mile guided system of electric street tram buses that would serve key areas of the city. Estimates, according to the plan that is more than six years in the making, indicate that ridership on routes served by the Connector will increase 20%.
In-line transit systems like the guided street tram have proven to spark neighborhood and downtown development throughout the country. Unlike traditional buses that run on gasoline, the Milwaukee Connector will run on overhead electrical wires and is not reliant on gas. The Council resolution supporting the Milwaukee Connector – approved yesterday on a 9-6 vote — does not authorize the expenditure of any funds and specifically prohibits the use of property tax dollars for funding the system.
“The same people who are opposed to the Milwaukee Connector are those who for years have been opposed to Milwaukee’s progress,” said Ald. Hines. “These same nay sayers opposed the demolition and redevelopment of the Park East freeway. They opposed the building of Miller Park in downtown Milwaukee. They opposed public investment in the Riverwalk and they said that downtown housing and the condo boom would never happen. History has proven them wrong in each case.”
Ald Hines continued: “Now, those same people have been joined by the Mayor of Milwaukee in opposing a new, clean and efficient transit system that will move people to jobs, foster new tax base and attract and retain young people. The Common Council of the City of Milwaukee cannot allow this to happen.”
Milwaukee cannot afford to lose this chance
By TIMOTHY SHEEHY
Posted: May 6, 2006
Consider that more than 21% of Milwaukeeans don’t own a car. For local African-Americans, that percentage rises to 32%.
Consider a growing mismatch between where jobs are created and where the jobless are and a downtown today that would have been unrecognizable 17 years ago.
Consider that our once-robust county bus system is becoming a shell of its former self as routes are cut, fares have increased and annual ridership has dropped from almost 54 million to just over 46 million in the past five years.
Consider that we are one of only two major cities without a fixed transit system, and that while we “studied” our options for 17 years, almost everyone else has both built and expanded their systems.
Finally, consider that the Milwaukee County Transit System is the largest bus transit system funded by a property tax.
Now, think about the value of a new addition to the transit system that would extend through some of the poorest census tracts in the city, link almost every major destination downtown (including Miller Park), connect major employers, service Marquette University, Milwaukee Area Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, improve transit service, reduce congestion on Wisconsin Ave., attract new riders and operate at less cost than the current transit system.
You might say priceless, but of course, it is not.
The system – a single-rail, curbside guided tram – will cost $300 million dollars.
But before you say too expensive, consider the growing cost of inaction, lost opportunities and a rapidly declining transit system.
Saying “no” is not a strategy.
Why say “yes” to this two-route, 13-mile guided transit system?
Here is why: We have and should continue to make investments in improving our highway and road system, but we need a strategy for mass transit.
We need a system that links our neighborhoods to the local bus systems, our bus system to express transit on major routes, and the city to other regional and urban destinations.
Putting our head in the sand is not a strategy.
What the system does is provide a strategy for linking local bus routes to express transit on major routes, and it does so in a cost-effective, modern, reliable fashion.
All but $57 million of the $300 million in capital costs would be covered by federal funding, which we never seem to get our share of.
The remaining $57 million would be paid for from local funds through a 20-year bond at a cost of about $4 million per year.
The application of additional Federal Transit Administration funding from a standard formula would reduce that debt service to $2.6 million.
The remaining debt service would be covered with non-property tax sources of revenue, which would be detailed and approved before this project could be built.
We believe more transit funding from dedicated existing state transportation fees is a big part of this answer.
The efficiencies of operating the connector system as part of the Milwaukee County Transit System would actually result in a small surplus from operations.
The cost of a declining dysfunctional transit system has to be considered in this equation.
No other major urban area in the U.S. operates without a modern, fixed transit system (except Indianapolis, and its system is under study).
This system would more efficiently move people. For example, the connector systme would reduce 1,200 bus trips down Wisconsin Ave., providing better service.
It would be part of the infrastructure supporting urban life for everyone from young professionals to urban job seekers to students.
The guided street tram has distinct advantages over a bus.
You can see exactly where it runs and when it runs.
Its performance has been proven in climates similar to ours – snow, ice and all.
Its reliability has attracted solid (in the billions) investment along the routes in other cities, much like the RiverWalk has done here in Milwaukee.
For those elected officials who have questions, ask them.
We have been searching for a solution and answering questions over the past five years.
While we have waited for leadership, the $91 million in federal funds set aside in 1987 for a locally preferred alternative has declined in purchasing power by $56 million
For those who think “no” is a strategy, we urge you to come up with a better alternative, because inaction does have a consequence to existing transit service.
It would be hard to find a more apt name for this next generation urban transit system than the connector.
We either connect with the future or get stuck in the past.
Timothy Sheehy is president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
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Milwaukee needs a transit solution
By STEVE HINIKER
Posted: May 15, 2006
By pulling the plug on the electric bus system study, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has opened a much-needed discussion about the future of transit in southeastern Wisconsin.
The Milwaukee Connector was proposed as a compromise that tried to attract supporters and critics of light rail alike. It didn’t work. The connector was seen as an unproven technology for cold-weather cities and a system that lacked a track record in stimulating economic development. Rather than attracting support, the Milwaukee Connector attracted opposition from critics and supporters of light rail.
It’s time to move on and get a real transit solution for Milwaukee.
As downtown Milwaukee booms with new residents and new businesses, the future for the city is brighter than at any point in the past 40 years. Old neighborhoods are becoming rejuvenated, and new neighborhoods are being created. Entertainment districts are booming.
Despite this new development, the city still lacks a healthy mix of transit
options. Unlike Portland,
Seattle, San Diego, St. Louis, Minneapolis or other cities enjoying new growth, Milwaukee has no real plans for a 21st-century transportation system.
In order to sustain new development, Milwaukee needs to start developing an integrated transportation system immediately. The interstate construction is under way. A study linking downtown with communities to the south via commuter rail is nearly complete.
However, city residents and visitors have few transit options inside city borders. A commuter arriving via rail will be lucky if his destination is near the rail station – otherwise it could be a long walk or wait for a bus.
In order to complete the transportation system, Milwaukee should immediately begin the study of a modern streetcar system that will give mobility to those who either can’t or don’t want to drive a car in the city. With gas prices soaring and parking becoming more expensive and harder to find, a streetcar system provides an excellent alternative. It also improves mobility options for city residents.
Streetcars are a proven technology that is used successfully throughout Europe and in many growing U.S. cities. Unlike the larger light rail vehicles, streetcars are a neighborhood scale mode of transit that is reliable, quiet and comfortable. They help attract new development and are far less expensive to construct than light rail systems. Unlike the Milwaukee Connector, they rely on a proven technology that has existed for more than 100 years.
More than 20 cities in Wisconsin had streetcars at one time – most of them in the years before cheap oil. Now that oil is becoming expensive again, it’s time to reconsider streetcars and what they can do for cities.
If Milwaukee is going to compete with other cities for economic growth, it had better be prepared to invest in modern transit.
Steve Hiniker is executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, an environmental group.
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