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Streetcar expansion proposal expected to miss DNC deadline

Posted at 7:08 PM, Jul 23, 2019

Mayor Tom Barrett’s push to extend the streetcar rails in time for the 2020 Democratic National Convention may have hit its final road block.

City leaders decided not to vote on the proposal Tuesday. The Department of Public Works Commissioner said their inaction likely puts the DNC deadline out of reach.

This is the second time the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee decided not to vote on the streetcar extension proposal. Some aldermen believe there are too many concerns for residents that still need to be resolved.

Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton didn’t mince words when it came to his thoughts on the proposal.

“This is not ready,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said one of his concerns is that residents and businesses along the proposed route could see unfair tax increases due to the development.

“Trying to force-feed this into a project that will be done by the DNC is a fool-hearted effort,” he said.

If passed, the $52 million proposal would extend the rails to W. Wisconsin Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the hub of the 2020 DNC. It would also send The Hop north to Bronzeville and south to Walker’s Point. Streetcar supporter Ald. Bob Bauman wants The Hop to go into neighborhoods.

“It was always the plan to expand, that was always the purpose,” he said.

The committee’s inaction allows city leaders more time to get answers about whether programs could possibly help those who can’t afford increased taxes, but it also pushes the proposal possibly to the point of no return for the DNC. Hamilton thinks that’s OK.

“It’s less of a priority of getting it done by the DNC," he said. "That’s less of a priority to me than doing it right."

Mayor Tom Barrett expressed frustration by the committee’s inaction. His statement reads in part:

“The decision reached by the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee today to hold the streetcar files needlessly slows down the incredible momentum we as a community have worked so hard to create.”

“If nothing is decided upon within this cycle and we go into recess on hold, there’s just no way we can get this completed by DNC,” explained Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske.

The common council has one more meeting next Tuesday before they take a recess in August.