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The money would come from the USDOT's Federal Transit Administration through its Small Starts program. Milwaukee County has sought Small Starts grant money for some time. Milwaukee County Transit Service said it began working with the FTA on the BRT project back in 2016. The Small Starts money would cover roughly 75% of the overall project cost. The remaining will come from a local match; the county has already put money toward this local match in its 2017 and 2019 capital budgets. The money would be used to construct bus stations on raised platforms and create dedicated travel lanes, among other things. Even though Trump's announcement signals the federal money for the project is on its way, the process is not yet over, according to MCTS. Kristina Hoffman, a spokeswoman for MCTS, said in an email that MCTS is still working with the FTA to finalize a Small Starts grant agreement. She added the FTA is still reviewing final project designs and other documents. Once the agency reviews those items and provides comments, the two parties will work together on any needed updates in order to execute the grant agreement. "While the message from the president was exciting, the project continues to work closely with FTA to execute the Small Starts Grant Agreement (SSGA) that will help to fund the construction of the project," Hoffman said. MCTS expects the grant agreement will be reached this fall, Hoffman said. The project will be advertised to bidders following that, with construction anticipated to begin in spring 2021. It is expected to be ready for revenue service in late 2022. The BRT project has made incremental steps the last several years toward receiving this funding. The project was accepted into the "project development" phase by FTA in its 2018 annual report of funding recommendations, which was issued in May 2017. The project has subsequently received "medium" overall project ratings in the 2019 and 2020 annual reports. The overall rating is used by FTA in making its annual funding recommendations. Hoffman said a project needs a medium overall rating or better in order to receive the federal grant money. It was when the BRT project first received the rating that MCTS knew it'd eventually be awarded the funding, she said. Milwaukee County has already received local approvals on the project. Project designs were approved by the cities of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, as well as the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The BRT route is designed to turn around at the site of the proposed Couture high-rise development downtown. That project, which is also relying on federal assistance through an $80 million loan guarantee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has not yet moved forward. The developers are working to secure their final needed piece of equity before moving forward with an application to HUD. Hoffman said Milwaukee County expects the financing will be secured and the HUD loan application "will be submitted soon." The optimism is similar to what some city leaders said of the Couture project earlier this month. The city's downtown streetcar system is also using the Couture as the turnaround point on its lakefront line extension. "In the interim, the city and county will continue to work towards our shared vision of the intended transit concourse and streetcar station at the Couture site," Hoffman said. WisDOT secretary-designee Craig Thompson said the grant award was "tremendous news for the entire state of Wisconsin." "This critical 9-mile corridor serves the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and connects downtown Milwaukee with Wauwatosa and Marquette University," he said in a statement. "The service is estimated to have more than 9,500 daily users by 2035 and increase overall transit ridership by 17 percent." County Board Supervisor John Weishan, who chairs the Committee on Transportation, Public Works & Transit, said it will be difficult for the BRT project to move forward given the county's current difficulties dealing with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. “I’m pleased that the federal government has provided a large portion of the funding we requested for the BRT, but it will be a real challenge for the county to provide all remaining funding given the massive costs we’ve incurred from the coronavirus pandemic," he said. Get more news and insight in the May 25 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee. Subscribe to get updates in your inbox here.
I’m proud to commit $40.9M in @USDOT funding to Milwaukee’s East-West Bus Rapid Transit project. Bringing modern transit to the region’s most critical corridor and spur millions in economic development. Love Wisconsin! @RideMCTS— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020