Milwaukee receives federal funding for streetcar project

City officials announced two weeks ago that the Milwaukee Streetcar project has received federal backing, with the Federal Transit Administration signing a “finding of no significant impact,” which means the project is not believed to be harmful to the environment.

This allows the city to proceed into the final design for the project.

Milwaukee City Engineer Jeff Polenske said the preliminary research of the project has had many factors.

“As a part of the environmental assessment, the social and economic factors, the indirect and cumulative effects, and the physical factors were all evaluated,” Polenske said. “The Milwaukee Streetcar environmental assessment found that after avoiding, minimizing and mitigating various impacts, no significant impacts remained.”

The proposed line runs from the lower east side of the city to the Amtrak/Greyhound station. Jodi Teak, communications director at Mayor Tom Barrett’s office, said the line was drawn for the benefit of everyone.

“The route was identified to serve the greatest number of riders,” Teak said. “It was also designed to complement bus routes. A lot of studies have shown the more people use the streetcar, the more likely they are to ride the bus.”

Charlie Mau, a freshman in the College of Business Administration, said the proposed line has the potential to be very useful for riders and good for the city.

“I think it could be very helpful for a lot of residents and students who would want to use (a streetcar),” Mau said. “It could be very convenient.”

Part of that convenience is the fact that the Amtrak/Greyhound station is part of the line.

“(The line) is designed to work with commuters and visitors,” Teak said.

The federal grant is worth $54.9 million. While the line may benefit many parties, utility companies have said it could cost up to $55 million to move their lines out of the streetcar route, though Polenske said there is an effort to avoid impacting the utilities.

“While there have been concerns with impacts to utilities, it is our intent to focus on utility coordination efforts to minimize any impacts,” Polenske said.

Once finished, the plans call for the streetcars to run every 10 minutes on weekdays, or every 15 minutes in the early morning, seven days a week starting in late 2015. The lowest fare is planned to be a dollar for two hours of use. Other payment options, including a $250 year-long pass, will be available.

The city expects construction to begin in the spring of 2013.