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City considers streetcar expansion for the Democratic National Convention

Posted at 9:27 PM, Jul 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-31 23:13:33-04

The "Milwaukee Hop" isn't even running down the tracks yet, but there is already talk of expanding the streetcar in time for the 2020 Democratic National Convention if Brew City is awarded the event.

Milwaukee city engineers have been meeting to discuss design and engineering obstacles, while the mayor's office is exploring funding. 

"[It's'] Something that will be tight for us to do, it would be difficult for us to do but we think we can pull it off," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Barrett has been behind the streetcar project since the beginning. Despite taking heat for the project, he's also behind the expansion to the Fiserv Forum.

Barrett says he always believed. "once it started running the dynamic would change and the debate would change to how can I get this extended to our neighborhood."

City Engineer Jeff Polenske says current streetcar construction has prepared the city.

"We've kind of gone through this process. Now we have some of the relationships already established, we have some of the processes and how we do that coordination established," said Polenske.

With a "yes" coming from the DNC, the city would have less than 18 months to construct the addition. Polenske thinks it's possible.

"I think it can be, again it's going to be very tight," he said. 

Much of the route up 4th street from the Milwaukee Intermodal Station stop would be "off wire" or the cars would be powered by onboard batteries. That in itself would save on construction time.

The other variable would be convention security. A likely "bubble" surrounding the Fiserv Forum where events would be held would stop the streetcar a couple blocks shy of the new arena. Allowing for shorter construction time and less expenses. 

Barret says funding sources are already being identified and in some cases already up and running.

"We always knew that this was the next leg that we wanted to do. So there has already been a TIF (tax incremental financing) that has been created that would fund the extension to the arena," he said. 

The city is also applying for Federal "BUILD" funding dollars, which could be decided on by the fall.  

In addition, a 6th "Hop" vehicle would be ordered from Brookeville Equipment Corporation in Brookeville, Pennsylvania where the city's first 5 cars were built.

Each vehicle carries a cost of nearly $4.7 million. The total cost of the expansion will depend on how far the expanded route actually goes.

The first phase of the Milwaukee Hop cost $128 million, the majority of which came in the form of federal grants.