Milwaukee County wants to spend nearly $50 million dollars to shave a few minutes off of the morning commute between downtown Milwaukee and Wauwatosa. A federal grant would pay for the majority of the project, so even if it’s not on your ride to work, you’ll still be paying for it.
County officials believe the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system will grow ridership, spur economic development and reduce congestion on some of the area’s busiest streets. It calls for busses that make fewer stops, and in some spots run along dedicated lanes of Wisconsin Avenue and Bluemound Road. It will run from the lakefront to the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center (MRMC) and beyond to a park-and-ride off of Swan Boulevard.
Business owner John Kissinger is among the leaders who believe better transit will be good for jobs. He testified before a city of Milwaukee committee in favor of the project.
“I think this would be a significant advantage to help us attract and retain employees, in addition to the economic development that it would drive,” Kissinger stated.
think this would be a significant advantage to help us attract and retain employees, in addition to the economic development that it would drive,” Kissinger stated.
Milwaukee County officials claim it could increase ridership on the corridor by more than 5,000 people and more than 9,000 system wide. Even in creating bus-only lanes, they predict travel for riders and drivers will improve.
Brian Dranzik heads up transportation for Milwaukee County.
“This is one of the things that, as we look at other cities, can draw more people back to transit and help alleviate some of the congestion,” Dranzik said.
The promise of reducing congestion hinges on the ability of BRT to attract new riders, particularly those who already own cars. County officials claim the addition of BRT could get more than 6,000 vehicles off of the road daily in that transit corridor.
However, that could be a difficult sell. While BRT would shave nine minutes off of the trip from the lakefront to the MRMC, the trip in a car is still significantly faster. TODAY’S TMJ4 was able to make the journey in less than 21 minutes during the morning rush. The best prediction for BRT is 31 minutes.
That’s why Wauwatosa moms Laura Steele and Erin Groth think the project would actually make travel tougher on busy Bluemound Road.
“If you have a car, are you going to take the bus?” Groth questioned.
Steele predicts dedicated lanes for the bus will choke regular traffic.
“We have really, really heavy traffic out here,” Steele pointed out. “The BRT will take the same number of cars, drive them into fewer lanes of traffic.”
Transportation officials point to other cities where BRT has increased ridership. but they admit, under the most optimistic projections, the line would directly serve fewer than three percent of the county's residents. Still, they’re pushing to spend millions of tax dollars on the plan.
Dranzik believes it’s an important option.
“It’s again about providing that better access," he said. "We can spend it on this, or we can spend a potential much greater amount on the road network when congestion levels reach a point where that discussion needs to occur.”
The Milwaukee County Board is set to vote Thursday on whether officials should proceed with the federal grant process. If they get the green light, officials plan to make the request next month.