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Friday, July 25, 2008

Green light on transit? Walker to seek funds for rapid bus lines

From an article by David Doege in The Business Journal of Milwaukee:

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker plans to seek $50 million in federal funds for two bus rapid transit lines that could help break the long-running stalemate over upgrades to the Milwaukee area’s transit system.

The funds would be in addition to the $91.5 million in federal funds allocated to the Milwaukee area in the early 1990s that has gone unspent because Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett cannot agree on a revised mass transit plan. Business and community leaders have been pushing hard in recent months for an upgraded transit system to help the area’s economic development efforts and business climate.

Walker said this week that he will meet in the next few days with officials from the Federal Transit Administration to begin the application process for funding he believes would support one north-south line beginning at Bay Shore Town Center in Glendale and an east-west line beginning on the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa.

A bus rapid transit line would use new buses that would operate in a dedicated lane at higher speeds with fewer stops than traditional urban bus systems.

“This would probably be something that we could put in the 2010 budget,” he said.

The funding Walker intends to seek is available under an federal program called Very Small Starts. According to an agency fact sheet, the program targets “simple, low-risk (transit) projects” and features a “highly simplified project evaluation rating process.”

To win approval, projects must be on corridors with more than 3,000 riders daily, offer service at least 14 hours per day, utilize vehicles with signal priority and feature on-peak service every 10 minutes and off-peak service every 15 minutes, among other criteria.

Local governments must provide at least 20 percent of the total cost for approved projects. Walker said that some of that would have to be built into the budget, but that part of it could come through “in kind” design services provided by county personnel who would participate in designing and establishing the system.

“We would have time to work with the County Board to set this up,” Walker said. “There would have to be an appropriation in the budget, but it would not involve a tax increase.”

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