Federal government approves change to streetcar route

The federal government recently approved a change to the proposed downtown Milwaukee streetcar route.

The streetcar would run from the Intermodal Station through downtown Milwaukee to the Lower East Side. The estimated cost of the project is $65 million. The city has nearly $55 million in federal funds for the project and the remaining cost would be paid for with local funding sources.

City officials sought federal approval to make a change to the route to lower utility relocation costs for the project. The change splits the segment of the streetcar route on Broadway between St. Paul Avenue and Wells Street. Under the new plan northbound streetcars would use Milwaukee Street and southbound streetcars would use Broadway.

The Federal Transit Administration determined that the new route will have no significant impact on the natural and built environment and approved the change, according to a letter from FTA regional administrator Marisol Simon.

“This route change saves an estimated $10 million in AT&T relocation costs and reduces additional expenses by avoiding the need to move 2,000 lineal feet of steam tunnels and 2,000 lineal feet of electrical ducts,” said Jeff Polenske, city engineer. “We’re pleased by the FTA’s approval of the route change, which will produce major savings and bring the benefits of the streetcar to an additional street.”

The cost of utility relocation for the project is critical for the city because of a provision added to the state budget last year and says that municipalities, and not utility ratepayers, that build streetcars must pay for all of the costs to relocate utilities for the project.

City officials are working with utility companies to reduce the utility relocation costs for the streetcar project, a standard practice for all public works projects, city officials say.

“These significant savings were possible because of the city’s utility coordination process, which is ongoing and is continuing to produce additional utility relocation savings,” Polenske said.

City officials hope to begin construction of the streetcar project as early as this year.

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