MILWAUKEE — Thursday marks the start of a major undertaking, connecting downtown Milwaukee to Wauwatosa in a whole new way.
A "who's who" of Wisconsin leaders marked the occasion by being the first to put shovels in the ground on the new transportation project that will change one of our area's busiest thoroughfares.
This groundbreaking at Wisconsin Avenue and 27th Street is the start of a 9-mile stretch along Wisconsin Avenue, called the East-West Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT. It will have faster service between more than 33 stations, with raised platforms and dedicated lanes.
Expected to be operational by October of 2022, battery-powered electric buses will connect Milwaukee's lakefront, Marquette University, Milwaukee's near west side, Wauwatosa, Froedtert, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Children's Wisconsin. It will also link people to areas like Fiserv Forum, the Art Museum, American Family Field, and Milwaukee County Zoo.
"The BRT is going to be new, fun to ride, dependable, so I think it's going to spur a lot of people that haven't tried transit in the past to leave the car at home," said WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson. "The BRT is going to get people to school, work, medical care and shopping and be a real boon to Milwaukee County's economy.
Critics, though, question that, and point to the price tag.
While a federal grant is covering nearly $41 million to build the BRT, Milwaukee County will pay almost $15 million.
But local leaders who've worked to make this happen say it's really about creating more racial and economic equity.
"Why do the poorest of the poor have to use transportation that takes hours to get the service they need?" said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. "Our responsibility is to do what's best now for the people of this community who need healthcare, access to employment, connections to education."
"A more efficient high-frequency service for people with disabilities, people without vehicles, families sharing a single vehicle, and others," said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley.
"This is a project that is long overdue," said U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation expects this project to serve nearly 10,000 week-day commuters by 2035.