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Milwaukee Alderman Wants Equal Treatment for Projects in Utility Service Area

Milwaukee Streetcar

A Milwaukee alderman says what’s fair for the city is fair for other communities. He’s talking about the proposed streetcar for downtown.

The Public Service Commission told Milwaukee that it will have to pay to relocate utility lines for the rail project. So now, he wants to know what residents here are underwriting in other cities and towns.

The cost of moving utility lines in Milwaukee to make room for a streetcar ranges from $20 million to $45 million. Usually, when it comes to public works projects, the utilities pay – they pass along the cost to customers. But the Public Service Commission ruled in August, that the streetcar project is not included.

Brett Healy initiated the case. He’s president of the conservative think tank, MacIver Institute and lives in Waukesha County. Healy says utility customers outside Milwaukee should not have to pay for its downtown rail line.

“That was the point of the PSC, to determine if it was appropriate for people outside Milwaukee who have no ability to vote for or against any of the politicians in Milwaukee to be charged such a large portion of the cost of this project on our utility bills,” Healy says.

The person now wanting to use Healy’s arguments to reverse the PSC decision is Milwaukee Ald. Bob Bauman. He’ll introduce a plan at the Common Council meeting Tuesday, directing the city to identify all public works projects in other communities that involve moving utility lines.

“There could be a road reconstruction project in Watertown which would involve moving manholes, moving gas lines, perhaps utility poles or underground utility lines. We Energies would normally absorb that cost. In that instance, we would object on the grounds that it’s unreasonable for the city of Milwaukee as a ratepayer to absorb that utility relocation cost for a project in Watertown,” Bauman says.

Bauman insists his proposal is not simply a case of sour grapes. Brett Healy calls the plan, a vendetta. In addition to the PSC decision, state leaders approved a related law this year. It prohibits municipalities from passing along costs associated with urban rail projects. The City of Milwaukee is asking the PSC to reconsider its ruling and is considering potential court action.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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