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Politics & Government

Update: Milwaukee Common Council Delays Vote on Streetcar Plan

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Milwaukee Streetcar
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The council put off a decision on a downtown streetcar line, at least until the next meeting, to take more time to vet the refined plan. 

Planners had changed the route and funding mechanism, after learning the city would have to cover location costs for utilities.

The overall estimated cost of the project is $124 million. Federal money would cover more than half. The city must provide the rest, and the amount grew, after the state decided utilities don’t have to cover the cost of relocating power lines - when it comes to downtown streetcars.

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Credit Milwaukee Streetcar
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The proposed two-mile route is in blue.

One of the biggest supporters of a downtown streetcar is Alderman Bob Bauman. He says the federal money buys a two-mile rail line, and downtown is the best location.

“This is where we get maximum probability of success, by going where development will occur; where there’s concentrations of jobs, where there’s concentrations of tourists, where there’s concentrations of residential, to maximize success for the starter system, so we can build on that, in terms of future expansion and extensions,” Bauman said.

One of the most consistent opponents of the rail project is Alderman Joe Davis. He says the city should invest resources in neighborhoods that desperately need jobs and development to combat pervasive poverty and incarceration.

“I’ve always advocated (for) the areas of greatest needs," Davis said. "I see the district in which I represent is changing. I see high unemployment in certain areas of the city, and I’m not going to back down from that."

Davis has repeatedly mentioned the 30th Street Industrial Corridor, as a potential jobs haven that needs links with other parts of the city.

The details, as they exist, have the city spending $59 million on the project. When the cost of relocating power lines was added, planners scaled back the rail route and proposed creating two financing districts. The city would borrow money, then pay it back with anticipated property tax revenue from the rail neighborhoods.

Alderman Willie Wade says Milwaukee doesn’t have many other options for spurring growth.

“The only way we’re going to get money is from development or redevelopment," Wade said. "The state won’t let us raise the taxes any higher. They’re not going to share any tax revenue with us."

Planners estimate the streetcar would carry 6,000 riders per day - a conservative estimate and create hundreds of jobs, especially during construction.

Business opinion appears mixed, particularly among owners whose operations would be impact during or after construction.

Unanswered questions remain at this point such as, how could a streetcar line be linked with county buses, and how much and how long would it take to build extensions to other neighborhoods.

As of now, Alderman Jim Bohl is not satisfied.

“I know that one of the issues that’s been raised, whether it’s significant or not, is the ongoing operating cost of a system,” Bohl said.

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