Bus Rapid Transit Moving Forward In Milwaukee County

Milwaukee County, Madison Pursing BRT As Alternative Form Of Public Transportation

Rendering of Milwaukee County Bus Rapid Transit. 

The street car and high-speed rail have been controversial topics in Milwaukee and across the state, but another form of public transportation has gotten a warmer reception.

The Milwaukee County Board’s 2019 budget included funding for Bus Rapid Transit, a 9-mile route from downtown Milwaukee to the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa.

While the funding only covers 20 percent of the $53 million cost of the project, Brendan Conway, spokesman for Milwaukee County Transit, said the county’s commitment is key to securing the remaining 80 percent from the Federal Transit Authority.

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About $11 million from the county will go towards purchasing battery electric buses for the rapid transit service. There is also $4.5 million from the regional medical center that will pay for roadway and transit facility improvements on the Wauwatosa campus.

Conway expects to hear from the FTA in early 2019 regarding the grant application. If approved, Bus Rapid Transit could be operational by 2020 or 2021, Conway said.

Proponents of the project say BRT is a faster way to get from downtown to Wauwatosa. They also say, it is a mode of public transportation that is used.

“BRT is really the next mode of public transportation around buses because it is super efficient, it’s really not that expensive and people use it,” Conway said. “In every city, in every state and really every country that it has been done, it has been successful.”

Minneapolis, Kansas City and Grand Rapids are some of the cities in the Midwest that have installed BRT, Conway said.

The city of Madison is also considering installing a BRT line that would run from downtown Madison to the UW-Madison campus. Madison has completed a preliminary feasibility study and will soon begin the project development phase to determine the exact location of the bus route through downtown Madison, said Dave Trowbridge, a transportation planner with the City of Madison, who is leading the $50 to $85 million BRT project.

Madison officials will hold the first public hearing on the project Dec. 12. If approved, the soonest Madison could have BRT running would be 2023, Trowbridge said.

The Milwaukee County Board adopted the $1.18 billion budget for 2019 on Nov. 5. The budget included an amendment by Milwaukee Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb Sr. to begin purchasing battery electric buses.

Lipscomb has said he wants to purchase up to 15 battery electric buses to begin transitioning away from fossil fuels.

“Electric buses are cleaner and quieter than traditional diesel buses, which is good for riders, other road users, and people who live along bus routes,” Lipscomb said. The earliest that the new battery electric buses could be in operation is 2021.

The BRT route would start from the lakefront, where the Couture apartment tower is being planned. It would offer daily service with buses every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 20 to 30 minutes during non-peak hours. There will be 11 electric battery powered buses purchased with eight to 10 on the road at once.

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