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Monday, January 25, 2010

Milwauke County still plans rapid transit bus service

From an article by Larry Sandler in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Despite a setback in the county budget process, Milwaukee County officials still are planning for enhanced express bus service, also known as bus rapid transit.

County Executive Scott Walker's administration is preparing to give the County Board options in March for a one-route or two-route bus rapid transit system, using $36.6 million in federal funding, said Brian Dranzik, administration director for the county Department of Transportation and Public Works.

That cash is the county's portion of $91.5 million in long-idle federal transit aid, which Congress divided between the city's planned streetcar line and the county bus system after local officials couldn't agree on how to spend it. The money legally cannot be spent on the Milwaukee County Transit System's operating expenses.

Walker has long advocated using the federal money for bus rapid transit, or BRT, which supporters tout as offering the advantages of light rail at a lower cost. BRT lines typically use modern, energy-efficient buses that resemble light rail vehicles, running in reserved lanes or separate roadways, with stoplights rigged to turn green when the vehicles approach.

The Milwaukee County version would run in regular traffic but with automatic green lights for buses. Like their counterparts elsewhere, local BRT stops would have electronic signs showing the wait for the next bus.

In the 2010 county budget, Walker proposed a BRT line from the County Grounds in Wauwatosa through downtown Milwaukee to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Supervisors sliced that plan out of the budget, saying they wanted more details.

Transit officials recently presented three options to the board's Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee. One option would have used all the federal money to buy new buses, without adding BRT service.

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