Milwaukee County BRT project receives federal grant money, construction slated for spring

Could be open to riders by fall 2022

Rendering of a BRT station, courtesy of Milwaukee County Transit Service
Rendering of a BRT station, courtesy of Milwaukee County Transit Service.

Last updated on December 15th, 2020 at 12:56 pm

Milwaukee County officials say they have formally received a $40.9 million federal grant that will allow construction to start this spring on the roughly $55 million bus rapid-transit project.

The nine-mile east-west BRT project is the first of its kind in the state, according to a news release. It will connect downtown Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa by a new bus service that is faster than traditional bus transit.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration announced the execution of the federal Small Starts federal grant program agreement on Monday, which will cover nearly 80% of the overall project cost.

Revenue service could begin as early as fall 2022.

BRT offers faster and more frequent service to riders through the use of battery-electric buses, dedicated lanes, raised platforms at optimized stop locations, traffic signal prioritization, off-bard fare collections and other features.

“We appreciate the FTA’s commitment to helping improve transit infrastructure here in southeast Wisconsin,” Dan Boehm, managing director of Milwaukee County Transit System, said in a statement. “Our team has worked hard to move this project from concept to implementation. We’re looking forward to breaking ground on station construction this Spring so that current and new riders will soon be able to experience the future of public transportation.”

East-West BRT Corridor Map. Courtesy of MCTS
East-West BRT Corridor Map. Courtesy of MCTS

Milwaukee County has been working on the project since 2016, with cooperation of other municipalities and agencies such as the cities of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, MRMC and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. MCTS will operate the BRT.

The BRT project team recently issues a request for qualifications as part of the process to select a construction contractor. The team is also working to select a manufacturer for the 11 electric buses. They will be the first such buses used in southeastern Wisconsin, according to MCTS.

Qualification packages from contractors are due Dec. 22. The manufacturer is likewise to be selected by the end of the month, with vehicle delivery anticipated for spring 2022.

“This historic project is an example of how – with the Federal Transit Administration’s support – Milwaukee County is investing in equity and bridging the gap in racial disparities across the board,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said in a statement. “Being able to get from point A to point B is essential for Milwaukee County residents trying to access all the opportunities the county has to offer and enjoy a high quality of life. Bus Rapid Transit will strengthen our entire transit network and move Milwaukee County closer to fulfilling its vision of achieving racial equity and becoming the healthiest county in Wisconsin.”

Another project vital to the BRT line received good news in recent weeks as well. The Couture, a 44-story, $188 million apartment tower in downtown Milwaukee, secured a federal loan guarantee allowing it to commence construction by Feb. 1. The project includes a public transit concourse that will serve as a stop for both the BRT and The Hop streetcar line. The Hop is owned and operated by the city of Milwaukee.

Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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