County launches website for proposed bus rapid transit line

Two public information meetings scheduled for April

city bus inside

Milwaukee County has launched a website detailing plans for a proposed 7-mile bus rapid transit line in advance of two public information meetings about the project scheduled for bus inside

The bus line was proposed on June 2, 2015 by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele as a way to better connect downtown Milwaukee to both the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and the Milwaukee County Research Park in Wauwatosa.

“Right now we’re in the study phase, so we’re looking at the feasibility of what the BRT could do,” said Milwaukee County Director of Transportation Brian Dranzik. “We’re optimistic that it would be a transit improvement. It’s one of the more heavily-traveled transit corridors.”

The buses would drive in exclusive lanes separated from street traffic by curbs or other barriers and would receive traffic signal priority at intersections.

Though the bus rapid transit line website does not provide specific project cost estimates or ridership estimates, it does provide comparisons to cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, Kansas City, Mo., and San Antonio, Texas, that have already implemented BRT lines.

BRT lines in those cities have led to bus ridership increases of between 25 and 50 percent, according to the project website. The page also claims BRT projects in those cities have led to between $100 million and $5.8 billion in “transit-oriented development” since buses began carrying passengers.

Milwaukee County Transit System spokesperson Brendan Conway said the county has not released an official cost estimate of the project since it has yet to receive public input that could have dramatic consequences on overall cost. Depending on whether City of Milwaukee, City of Wauwatosa and Milwaukee County residents opt for high-end or low-end buses, lanes and equipment, project costs could vary widely.

“It depends on what the community wants,” Conway said. “The range would be so broad it would be not useful at this point to talk about it.”

A study completed by students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning in December, with some help from the county, concluded the project would cost around $47.71 million to implement.

The study also estimated the new line would attract more than 29,000 riders, would take 36 to 40 minutes to traverse the east-west corridor, and could potentially leverage $3.5 billion in transit-oriented development.

Here’s an example of possible routes included on the project’s website:

The route from downtown Milwaukee to the Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa would connect two of the area’s largest job centers. It could also stop at other key neighborhoods along the way. The route would be woven into the existing Milwaukee County Transit System fixed-route service network.

Eventually, more routes could be added that would also include stops at UWM, Marquette University, MillerCoors and Harley-Davidson Inc.

“It’s the next step in transit,” Conway said. “You have these two major employment centers and every single day more than 100,000 people are working in those corridor areas. That’s just downtown and Wauwatosa, not including the neighborhoods it could stop at in between. In the coming years, in that corridor, the congestion is only going to increase. Downtown Milwaukee is growing and the Regional Medical Center is growing, but those roads are probably not going to expand.

“So how do you use the existing space and move more people without clogging up the roads?” Conway continued. “If you can increase frequency, and then you can also make it competitive if not faster than a car because it doesn’t have to fight traffic, then you increase ridership.”

The county began planning and preliminary engineering studies for the BRT project in February. Public information meetings about the project will be held on Tuesday, April 12 and Thursday, April 14 at O’Donnell Park’s Miller Brewing Co. Pavilion, 910 E. Michigan St., from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Project leaders plan to submit an application for a Federal Transit Administration grant in August to fund construction and implementation. Conway said counties must bear at least 20 percent of the cost of implementation to receive consideration for an FTA grant, and that local governments that plan to cover an even higher proportion of project costs are typically viewed more favorably.

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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