Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:11 pm
A proposal from Milwaukee County board chairman Theo Lipscomb Sr. to create a dedicated bus route from Milwaukee and Racine to Foxconn Technology Group’s planned LCD manufacturing campus took a step forward Wednesday but it remains unclear what shape such a service would eventually take.
“It seems like an opportunity for us to decide how are we going to play in that and get our people there,” Lipscomb said. “The bottom line is a real serious discussion and negotiations should begin.”
Lipscomb’s proposal, first introduced this spring, would use $4.5 million proceeds from the sale of the former Midwest Express hanger at Gen. Mitchell International Airport to fund the route. Depending on the demand and the route structure, the service could transport up to 660 workers from both Racine and Milwaukee to the site.
“It is urgent that we get to work on it,” Lipscomb said. “If you wait until the jobs are available, if people don’t know that they can get to the site, they won’t apply.”
On Wednesday, the county board’s Transportation, Public Works and Transit committee voted 4-1 to approve a resolution authorizing Milwaukee County entities to start negotiations with Racine County, the state and Foxconn on the proposed bus service.
“In my opinion, Foxconn itself has been one of the largest scams,” said supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, the lone vote against the proposal.
Dimitrijevic pointed to the potential $3 billion in state support for the Foxconn project and other public money for the project as reasons the county should possibly reconsider investing additional money.
“I have a long record of supporting public money for public infrastructure,” she said. “But I’m going to have to think long and hard about giving another penny.”
She also pointed out bus routes connecting workers to jobs in the suburbs, currently funded by a lawsuit settlement with the state, are running out of funding and could stop at the end of the year. She suggested the hanger money might be better used to continue those routes.
Transportation has played a major role in the debate surrounding Foxconn. Democrats in the state Legislature pushed for a regional transit authority, but the idea did not gain any traction. Lawmakers did authorize around $250 million in borrowing to expand Interstate 94 and the state received $160 million in federal funding as well.
On the public transit side, Milwaukee Ald. Bob Bauman has pushed for an expansion of the Amtrak Hiawatha service, which already includes a stop in Sturtevant.
Lipscomb’s proposal has a clearer existing source of funding, but there is some debate over whether the proceeds from the hanger sale can be used for transit. The state’s original investment came from Community Development Block Grant funds, which places restrictions on potential use.
A Department of Administration spokesman did not immediately return requests for comment on transit options.
“There’s some really technical elements there that have to get worked out,” Lipscomb acknowledged, adding that is the purpose of having administrative agencies begin negotiations.
He said his understanding is more conversations have taken place between Milwaukee, Racine and the state since he first proposed the bus route.
Milwaukee County executive Chris Abele and Racine County executive Jonathan Delagrave issued a joint statement Wednesday saying they look forward to continue discussion and seeking public approvals “tied to any potential solution.”
“There are many options on the table, and at this early stage all are being considered and evaluated. While we have had initial conversations about a dedicated bus line between Milwaukee and Racine Counties, as one possible approach, there are numerous considerations and details to work through, including funding,” the statement said.
For its part, Foxconn has expressed an interest in potential transit options. Alan Yeung, Foxconn director of U.S. strategic initiatives, told reporters following a Greater Milwaukee Committee meeting in June the company is interested in having talks with local government officials.
“Whether we are actually at the point of taking a position and making a statement, I don’t think we are there yet, but we actually would not rule out any options including of course shuttle and including rail options, and many other ways. One thing that we look at as a benchmark is actually the San Francisco Bay Area,” Yeung said, referencing the shuttle busses used by Silicon Valley tech giants like Google.
A Foxconn spokesman did not immediately return inquiries regarding any change in the company’s position since those comments.