First streetcar arrives in Milwaukee

Workers guided the streetcar into the track slots.

The first Milwaukee streetcar vehicle arrived from Pennsylvania this morning at North Third Street and West St. Paul Avenue near downtown.

The streetcar, dubbed “The Hop,” was unloaded from the truck that transported it from manufacturer Brookville Equipment Corp. onto the tracks that have been installed along West St. Paul Avenue and an operator drove it the first few feet on its home turf.

Now, the 40-ton, 67-foot, articulated vehicle will be further assembled and undergo 621 miles of testing along the tracks in a limited area, then the testing will be expanded to the entire line in June.

Mayor Tom Barrett said the streetcar will make Milwaukee more competitive with cities like Atlanta, and enhance residents’ quality of life.

“We’re very pleased to this point the project is on budget and on time…and the sense is there’s growing support for this,” Barrett said. “People recognize the reality of this and how competitive this puts Milwaukee with other major metropolitan areas. This is about economic development as well as transportation. And if you look at the major cities in this country and Mexico and Canada that are growing, they all have fixed mass transit.”

Asked about the politically divisive path the streetcar project took to come to fruition, Barrett said there are bound to be critics anytime a city takes “a significant step.”

“My hope is that we’ll win over, not all the critics, but we’ll win over many of the critics when they see how well this runs, when they see how many people are utilizing it,” Barrett said.

Not receiving a $20 million federal TIGER grant earlier this month for an extension to the Milwaukee Bucks arena won’t impede the future growth of the system, he said.

Alderman Bob Bauman said the streetcar’s arrival marked a historic occasion, 60 years after the previous streetcar ceased operation.

“We’ve had 25 years of arguing and planning and dreaming and ideas about this project. It’s no idea or dream anymore,” he said.

About one streetcar per month will arrive through August, and the system is expected to open to the public in the fall.

Rodney Ferguson, chief executive officer and general manager of streetcar sponsor Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, said although it doesn’t go to the casino, the streetcar is an attraction tool to get more people in to the city and become more competitive for events like the NBA All-Star Game.

Ferguson previously lived in Portland, which installed one of the first modern streetcars in 2001.

“Having them in Oregon, in the Portland area, it was extremely successful there. There’s no reason it can’t be successful here,” he said.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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