Transit upgrade aims for efficiency

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A future without Route 30 buses passing the dorms is possible if a change to the Milwaukee transit system is approved and implemented, according to information for a proposed transportation project.

The Milwaukee Connector project, using either a hybrid bus or a guided street tram, is designed to replace buses in certain areas, including large portions of Wisconsin Avenue, Jackson and Van Buren streets and Prospect and Farwell avenues. The bus system will operate as usual elsewhere.

Options for the Connector were presented to Milwaukee residents in a series of displays Wednesday in the Alumni Memorial Union.

There is nothing wrong with the bus system per se, said Mark Kaminski, project manager for the Milwaukee Connector.

"But the bus is old technology. The goal isn't just to put a new vehicle in place, but to improve efficiency and make the transit system more accessible and usable," Kaminski said. For example, during rush hours a Connector vehicle could arrive at a stop every six minutes.

Milwaukee is considered a good area for a Connector system because of its high population density.

"We're one of the few large cities without an upgraded transit system," Kaminski said.

A hybrid bus would travel like a regular bus; a tram would move on the street along a track or other guide. Similar systems are used in such cities as Denver, Boston and Portland.

The estimated cost for the hybrid buses would be $157 million, and the estimated cost for the tram would be $300 million, according to a Connector display. But choosing between the two would not be easy, Kaminski said.

He said factors such as the economic development of a city and user benefits would be considered, and either choice could be better.

Funding for each would come largely from federal funds, according to a Connector display. Local funding would represent about 20 percent of the cost.

However, local funding was not guaranteed. Kaminski said it was possible funding would not be approved by the city or the state and the bus system would stay as it was.

Reaction to the system was mixed.

"It's a well-needed transit development," said Neal Styka, a junior in the College of Engineering. "Milwaukee needs a better and more efficient system."

He said he thought the Connector would be approved, "otherwise it's a pretty big waste of money."

But Bob Kalupa, a retired lawyer and Milwaukee resident who often rides the Route 30 bus, disliked the idea.

"It's completely unnecessary… they have a solution without a problem," he said.

Kalupa thought the Connector would not be approved because taxpayers would not want to pay for the system.

Project members are currently working on a "Locally Preferred Alternative" and a "Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement," and after that is completed they will choose whether to upgrade the system. If project members choose to use either the tram or hybrid diesel, they will complete the engineering by 2006-'07 and design and build the system in 2008-'09.

This article was published in The Marquette Tribune on September 15, 2005.

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