Construction Begins On Milwaukee County Bus Rapid Transit, Amid Other Mass Transit Controversies
Updated 3:17 p.m. CDT
Construction is underway on the $55 million, nine-mile bus line from downtown Milwaukee to the Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa. Federal state and local officials held a news event Thursday to mark the start of work on what's known as East-West Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, but other transit controversies also came up during the officials' speeches.
There's already a Milwaukee County Transit System diesel-powered bus called the Gold Line that carries passengers along Wisconsin Avenue. But when BRT construction is wrapped up about 15 months from now, more frequent, cleaner electric buses will go on the avenue, or Bluemound Road, with a promise of nine minutes less travel time between the two end points of the route.
Transit System Chief Operations Officer Dan Basile said the key feature will be that for most of the way, one lane will be dedicated to the buses. "Segregating that lane, and allowing buses to operate in their own corridor outside of a car, actually makes traffic flow more smoothly," he said.
Basile said car drivers can use other east-west corridors, if need be. Plus, he said most of the other buses now on Wisconsin Avenue will be rerouted to other streets. He said the construction for the next year and a quarter will mainly be building raised platforms for easier onboarding of people, including those with mobility concerns.
The construction kickoff for BRT comes as Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature's budget committee are trying to axe 50% of the state operating aid to mass transit in Milwaukee and Madison — about $41 million.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said the budget cut would mean a major cut in services. "And a major reduction in services makes life incredibly difficult for people who rely on our transit system," he told the crowd.
The GOP says Milwaukee County and Madison could use federal stimulus funds for local bus operations. Crowley said he'll talk with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers about restoring the state money.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore of Milwaukee said she's trying to get more federal money for local transit, including in President Joe Biden's controversial infrastructure proposal. On Friday afternoon, Moore announced that $2 million from the American Rescue Plan passed in March will be allocated to the BRT.
Moore said she eventually wants a North-South BRT, running along 27th Street. The Democratic lawmaker said it recently took her two hours to go on existing buses from 20th and Capitol to St. Luke's Hospital on the south side. "That's an unsustainable amount of travel," Moore said.
The Trump administration last year OK'd about $40 million for the East-West BRT as Republican Donald Trump, who was president at the time, was trying to win Wisconsin again.