By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Dec 14, 2020 at 12:31 PM

The expansion of transit options in the area made another advance Monday as the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration announced a $40.9 million grant award to help the Milwaukee County Transit System move ahead with the East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project.

The nine-mile project, which provides dedicated lanes for electric buses to help ensure timely service even during rush hour traffic, would be the first of its kind in the state.

The Small Starts Grant Agreement (SSGA) ensures that  the federal government will pay nearly 80 percent of the costs of the $55.05 million project, which will connect Downtown Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, as well as Marquette University, the city’s west side and Wauwatosa.

The system will have priority at traffic signals and higher-frequency service than current traditional bus lines, as well as amenities that include raised platforms for easier boarding and off-board fare collection.

Construction is expected to begin in spring, with revenue service starting as soon as autumn of 2022.

A manufacturer is being sought for 11 battery-electric buses, as well as for a construction contractor.

Milwaukee County has been working on the BRT project collaboratively since 2016 with the FTA, City of Milwaukee, City of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), Milwaukee Regional Medical Center (MRMC) and Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), in addition residents, businesses, non-profits and other stakeholders.

“We appreciate the FTA’s commitment to helping improve transit infrastructure here in southeast Wisconsin,” said MCTS Managing Director Dan Boehm in a statement. “Our team has worked hard to move this project from concept to implementation. We’re looking forward to breaking ground on station construction this Spring so that current and new riders will soon be able to experience the future of public transportation.”

“This is great news for Milwaukee County and our state,” added Gov. Tony Evers. “The East-West BRT will help ensure more access to reliable transportation and make it easier for folks to get to work, home, and school. I appreciate the work of our local, state, and federal partners to make this project possible.”

“I am a strong supporter of this investment from the Federal Transit Administration in Milwaukee County’s public transportation system,” said U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin. “This federal funding will support a collaboration led by the County to move forward on the state’s first Bus Rapid Transit project. The East-West BRT is an exciting development and will provide services to the community that better connect people with major employment, education, and recreation destinations.”

“I could not be more pleased with this fantastic news regarding final federal approval of an additional transportation option for my constituents and the residents of Milwaukee County,” said Congresswoman Gwen Moore. “I applaud the efforts by Milwaukee County, MCTS, and the Federal Transit Administration to bring the project to life. Strong, reliable public transit is critical for our region and I look forward to building on this project’s momentum.”

“This historic project is an example of how – with the Federal Transit Administration’s support – Milwaukee County is investing in equity and bridging the gap in racial disparities across the board,” added Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley.

“Being able to get from point A to point B is essential for Milwaukee County residents trying to access all the opportunities the county has to offer and enjoy a high quality of life. Bus Rapid Transit will strengthen our entire transit network and move Milwaukee County closer to fulfilling its vision of achieving racial equity and becoming the healthiest county in Wisconsin.”

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.