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Modern transit is coming to Wisconsin.
Modern transit is coming to Wisconsin. (Photo: themilwaukeestreetcar.com)

On streetcars, utilities and transit innovation

Yesterday's Public Service Commission ruling – which is part of a battle that pits city versus state – seems counterproductive to building more usable and connected transit system. In case you missed it, the decision basically said that utilities, which use publicly financed roads for free (as we all do), should be given different treatment for Milwaukee-based improvements like the streetcar. You can read more about it and form your own opinion here

The City Attorney's office offered this response later in the day:

"We disagree With the Public Service Commission’s decision today on the Milwaukee Streetcar matter and will recommend an appeal. As the City has argued, the issue of Who pays the utilities’ relocation or modication costs associated With the construction of the Streetcar is an issue for the Circuit Court, not the Commission, to decide. The utilities’ obligation to relocate or modify their facilities at their expense is derived from state law, not a municipal regulation that the Commission may invalidate. Therefore, the Commission’s decision does not end the controversy over Whether the utilities must pay the costs they might incur to modify or relocate their own facilities so as not to obstruct the public’s use of the public right-of-way."

This "issue" isn't about whether there should be modern transportation in our state's largest city. Milwaukee's elected officials, Downtown leaders, businesses, transit riders, citizens and visitors have decided there should be. The question at hand is who should pay to move the underground utilities.

Yesterday, We Energies and AT&T seem to have won a good deal that helps control their costs. No matter where this ends, I'd like to see We Energies step up and make this project a priority. As a rate payer, Downtown property owner and concerned civic mind, I think they need to work with the city to get the engineering done ... quickly. And everyone should be reasonable in determining the costs. So, how about it?

Let's move modern transit to the top of everyone's list, including We Energies. They have a chance here to be a true leader in helping to build a better Downtown. For the utility company, this is for the good of the whole community, including their customers and investors, who will sell electricity to the streetcar and – yes – make money from it.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett put it this way, "In order to drive the costs down further, we expect even more cooperation from the utility companies than we have had to date."

As for the streetcar project's momentum, just last week the City of Milwaukee received a $3.18 million grant, approved by federal transportation officials, the regional planning body and officials from the Wisconsin Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources that helps continue to move the project forward. 

For the benefit of Wisconsin and visitors to our fine state, Milwaukee’s moving forward with a streetcar. In addition, the Downtown trolley is back this summer and other options like Uber Black and Lyft are here now, too. Cars are great. Options are good; they all work well together.

As I’ve written before, transportation isn't a Republican or Democratic or city or state issue; it's a simple, quality-of-life measure. And, it's about innovation and improvement in our community.

Talkbacks

TomD | April 28, 2014 at 9:07 a.m. (report)

mlaskin, nobody (including the Mayor) says people should park downtown, and then take the streetcar AND bus. What we are saying is that people who are ALREADY downtown (at work, staying in a hotel, living there, or driving in from the 'burbs) who need to travel WITHIN downtown can use it. Additionally, people who can't find reasonably priced parking near their downtown destination could park elsewhere and take the streetcar ($2 round trip, $1 if 65+) to their destination.

Those destinations DO include a university (MSOE), the lakefront (at Brady), and attractions (Bradley Center, Arena, Convention Center, Public Museum, Third Ward, Pabst Theater, Cathedral Square, etc).

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Bill Sell | April 27, 2014 at 7:19 p.m. (report)

Milwaukee is not inventing the streetcar; we are late to this modern technology. It works in other cities that have given the streetcar decades of thought and continue to add rail.

What is novel is that WE Energies seems to be stuck in some kind of obsession with promoting fossil fuel gulping cars as the mode of operation downtown, when their mission is to sell electricity and, with new customers like the streetcar, keep our rates down

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mlaskin | April 26, 2014 at 6:09 a.m. (report)

It works in a lot deeper snow than 2 inches, Milwaukee used to have streetcars all over.

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fetlarpo | April 25, 2014 at 5:29 p.m. (report)

I am still trying to understand does this lemon work in two inches of snow?

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mlaskin | April 25, 2014 at 11:36 a.m. (report)

I agree. A streetcar that goes nowhere. Barrett said people could pay to park downtown, pay to get on the streetcar and then pay to ride a bus to get where they need to from where the street car left you off. Its route services nothing, none of the Universities, no attractions, no Lakefront. What is the use of it?

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