The Milwaukee streetcar’s lakefront line will continue to be delayed at least another year as city officials wait for a multimillion-dollar high-rise development to break ground.
Construction of the lakefront line, which would extend the city’s 2.1-mile streetcar system about another half-mile, is roughly two-thirds finished. The line is supposed to include a stop at the base of the Couture development project, which was first announced in 2012, but has yet to start.
The city received a $14.2 million federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant in 2015 for the lakefront line because of the Couture’s transit hub. The federal grant requires the line to be operational by the end of 2020.
Couture developer Barrett Lo Visionary Development is still trying to secure the financing for the estimated $122 million project.
On October 2, Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of the Department of City Development, said the city plans to ask the Federal Transit Administration for more time.
This didn’t sit well with Alderman Robert Bauman, who chairs the city’s Public Works Committee, and invited Marcoux to a meeting on October 2 looking for a “plan B” for the lakefront line.
“Few things have depressed me more in 16 years as an alderman than how this has been handled,” Bauman said. “I’m sure it is music to the ears of the (streetcar) opponents.”
Marcoux said he and his staff meet weekly with Couture developer Rick Barrett and he is confident the project will move forward. After being pressed by Bauman for a date, Marcoux said he wanted to give Barrett until mid-2020 to break ground on the Couture before moving forward with another option for the streetcar.
Barrett owns the land where the Couture would be built. He purchased it from Milwaukee County. County Board members have discussed the possibility of finding another developer for the site.
Bauman said he plans to come forward with a resolution directing the Department of City Development not to seek an extension from the FTA, but to look at constructing a temporary streetcar track and begin looking at other options.
Whether that resolution will be approved by the full Common Council is unknown.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (no relation to the developer) has been lobbying the council members to expand the streetcar line by 2.4 miles. That expansion includes about a half-mile extension to Wisconsin Avenue, where the city’s convention facilities are located.
The mayor announced the $47 million plan in May. Under the plan, after the half-mile expansion to the convention center, the city would begin studying expanding into Walker’s Point, just south of the Historic Third Ward, and north into the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
Bauman said that expansion of the streetcar system is dead.
“We can’t get what’s funded built, much less talk about expansion,” Bauman said. “This is the FTA we want to get more grants from. And we go back and say, ‘We can’t fly this plane, we can’t get it off the ground.’ And we want to go back and get more money. Talk about living in a dream world.”
Marcoux disagreed. He said if the FTA agrees to an extension on the lakefront line, it shows they are partners with the city of Milwaukee.
“That certainly would not precondition any future or further grants from the FTA,” Marcoux said. “Asking them for additional time, if they see fit, means they support us.”
Lee Matz and Rinka Chung Architecture
Originally published on Wisconsin Public Radio as Milwaukee Streetcar’s Lakefront Line Delayed By Construction Project