Milwaukee County board chair Theodore Lipscomb Sr. wants to use $4.5 million left from the sale of Midwest Airlines assets to fund a new bus line from Milwaukee and Racine to the site of Foxconn Technology Group’s planned LCD manufacturing campus in Mount Pleasant.
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The site Foxconn Technology Group has selected for its 20 million-square-foot campus.
Lipscomb plans to propose the new bus route at a Milwaukee County transportation committee meeting on Wednesday. He’s already had the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission complete an analysis of the proposed route.
In a memo to committee chair Michael Mayo Sr., Lipscomb said that “initiating a bus route to Foxconn is viable without any new taxes and could potentially jumpstart a new era of cooperation on what has historically been a divisive issue – regional transportation.”
"We can make real progress connecting workers to jobs by launching a new bus route that links Milwaukee and Racine to the soon-to-be-built Foxconn complex in Mt. Pleasant, and we should start now," he wrote.
Lipscomb is proposing using about $4.5 million available after the county sold the former Midwest Airlines hanger for nearly $7.3 million. The hanger was used as collateral to secure industrial revenue development bonds in 2003. Racine County and the Department of Commerce were also involved in supporting the project.
“I invite Racine and the WEDC to partner with Milwaukee and create a new bus route serving Foxconn, which could be expanded in the future,” Lipscomb wrote. “While we could divvy up the $4.5 million, so that each party’s share would go into our own general funds, that would mean foregoing the opportunity of working together and capitalizing on massive investment in the region.”
The arrival of Foxconn has prompted renewed discussions about a variety of transit ideas, including the possibility of a regional transit authority in southeastern Wisconsin. Mark Hogan, WEDC secretary and chief executive officer, was cool to the idea during a recent event at Marquette University Law School.
“I think it just kind of falls on deaf ears,” Hogan said of the RTA idea. He said there will be a role for the government to play in getting workers to the Foxconn site. He suggested something similar to the Joseph Project, which uses vans to get Milwaukee residents to Sheboygan and Waukesha county manufactures, would be a small-scale example of what needs to be done.
Asked about the agency’s involvement in the proposal, WEDC spokesman Mark Maley directed questions to the state Department of Administration, noting the Department of Commerce support was in the form of a community development block grant, a program now administered by DOA.
“DOA looks forward to working with Milwaukee and Racine to ensure the use of the funds complies with federal guidelines and benefits the community,” Department of Administration spokesman Steve Michels said in an email when asked if the department was involved in the proposal.
In his memo to Mayo, Lipscomb noted ideas from a regional transit authority to commuter rail to flexible and fixed route options have been discussed since Foxconn was announced.
"The debate is well underway," he wrote.
Lipscomb said he's had some initial discussions with Racine County officials and expects the state will be interested in working on transportation issues, regardless of which agency has responsibility for the money. He said Racine officials are already working on transportation questions and while Milwaukee officials have expressed transit concerns, nothing has been done.
"The idea was to get something concrete on the table," he said, acknowledging there would likely be negotiations to get to a final deal.
The analysis by SEWRPC suggested if the Milwaukee County Transit System were to operate the bus lines it would require the purchase of anywhere between three and 11 new busses, depending on the number of round trips per day.
The county could also work with a private contractor to use coach buses to take workers from downtown Milwaukee and Racine to the Mount Pleasant site. Depending on ridership, the routes would require $144,000 to $529,000 in additional support from the counties or state with four round-trips daily; $288,000 to $1,059,000 with eight round-trips and $433,000 to $1,588,000 for 12 round-trips.
"The opportunity is that you could start service and add as the demand warranted," Lipscomb said.