By Ald. Mike D'Amato, 3rd District   Published May 23, 2006 at 5:04 AM

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker have vetoed The Milwaukee Connector plans that their respective governing bodies (Common Council and County Board) supported.

Now, after six years of work, the project is in jeopardy. Over the past few weeks, numerous lies and misstatements have been made about the Milwaukee Connector project by politicians and talk radio. These falsehoods have been used by elected officials to determine their support for or opposition of the Connector project.

Below are 15 items spoken about the Connector. But the facts help to answer questions and set records straight.

If approved, the project will move to preliminary engineering next.

Fiction: Recent votes by the Common Council and County Board would make the project a done deal and mean a cost to taxpayers.

Fact: The Common Council and County Board have taken up resolutions to provide direction to their representative on the project Steering Committee as they make decisions on a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). Decision on a Draft LPA does not guarantee the construction of a system, but allows the study to further refine one, preferred alternative as opposed to multiple alternatives. It allows the project to receive additional input from the public on the Draft LPA, seek input from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and submit an application to the FTA to enter Preliminary Engineering.

Fiction: Local project financing needs to be identified and committed before moving forward.

Fact: During the alternatives analysis phase of a project, where the Connector is now, funding sources are identified but not committed. According to the Federal Transit Administration:

"... project cost estimates become more reliable as the project scope is defined in detail and engineering studies are completed. Similarly, funding strategies become more certain as funds are committed. The financial plan is prepared during alternatives analysis and updated during preliminary engineering (PE), final design, and construction, as changes occur to project costs, funding, or external factors that affect agency finances." (Federal Transit Administration Procedures and Technical Methods for Transit Project Planning)

Financial commitments are further developed during Preliminary Engineering, as project costs become more refined. The Connector project has, in fact, developed a menu of funding scenarios for consideration for both the bus and guided street tram alternatives. None of the funding alternatives being considered includes the use of property tax dollars.

Fiction: There is no guarantee that the federal funding sources will materialize for the project and the local match will then increase.

Fact: If the federal funding sources are not available to the project, the project will not move forward. Local match will not increase. We cannot know if we will receive federal funding until we apply and we cannot apply until the process required by the Federal Transit Administration has been completed, and that includes preliminary engineering. To say Milwaukee will only apply for federal funding with projects that have a guarantee would mean most projects would never be planned or studied.

Fiction: The addition of the Connector will cost more to operate than the existing bus system.

Fact: The opposite is true. The increased federal operations funding for cities with fixed guideway transit will allow the connector to operate at $500,000-$900,000 less per year than the current bus system.

Fiction: The Connector will reduce transit service by cutting bus routes.

Fact: Stating that there will be bus service reduction is misleading and untrue. It does not consider the overall travel time savings and complete system with the Connector in place. It is not uncommon for cities like Milwaukee to evaluate bus route consolidation/routing as part of a fixed guideway transit improvement project. Although some bus routes will be re-configured, overall travel time savings, quality of ride, frequency of service and system efficiencies will also be realized. The Connector has been designed in partnership with the Milwaukee County Transit System to work seamlessly and in concert with the current bus system.

Fiction: Only one line will run on Wisconsin Avenue with vehicles coming every hour.

Fact: Not true. Two lines, one in each direction, will run on Wisconsin Avenue with vehicles arriving every six minutes or less during peak periods and every 12 minutes or less during off peak periods. A second route runs in both directions from 35th and north south through downtown and into the Third Ward, with similar frequency.

Fiction: Vehicles will only travel at 10 mph.

Fact: On Wisconsin Avenue, the Connector vehicle will travel an average of 20 mph on the western segment and 12mph on the eastern downtown segment. This is a 70% and 58% projected increase over current bus travel speed, respectively. The current bus speed through downtown on Wisconsin Avenue averages 7 mph. Cars and buses on a street rarely average the posted speed of traffic. For example, recent car timing for autos traveling on the western segment of Wisconsin Avenue averaged 23.13 mph, and averaged 12.74 mph on the eastern, downtown segment of Wisconsin Avenue.

Fiction: $17 million in recent streetscaping on Wisconsin Avenue would be ripped up by the Connector.

Fact: The recently rebuilt areas of Wisconsin Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue Streetscaping would not be ripped up to construct the Connector system. Construction will occur in the curb lane of the existing roadway and will not impact the streetscape improvements, whether already constructed or planned. Station sites were selected and positioned to avoid removal of existing planters, kiosks, benches and streetscape amenities.

Fiction: The Connector will permanently eliminate parking along all routes.

Fact: Not true. The Connector project recognizes the sensitivity of lost parking and has been working closely with the City, businesses and residents along the routes to develop alternate parking locations and mitigation strategies.The route segments on Prospect, Farwell, Jackson and Van Buren will lose parking on one side of the street only. These spaces can likely be replaced by converting the remaining lane of parallel parking to angle parking. On Prospect Avenue, two auto travel lanes will still be maintained along with one dedicated Connector lane and one angle parking lane.

Fiction: More input is necessary from the public/there has not been adequate opportunity for public comment.

Fact: The Connector's open door policy on outreach has led to over 350 project meetings in neighborhoods and communities that could be impacted by the project options. Most recently, a series of public workshops were held last fall at three locations in the city. The project has received, recorded and replied to public comments via the project website, letters and calls. All elected officials have been offered one-on-one briefings and been asked for the opportunity to brief their constituents. Most have participated in one or more such meetings. In addition, a public hearing on the Draft Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) is planned, following the selection of a draft LPA.

Fiction: Bus riders have not been notified of opportunities to comment and give input.

Fact: The Connector project, working with Milwaukee County Transit (MCTS), conducted special outreach to transit users to encourage their participation at public meetings. MCTS utilized its e-blast capacities to notify transit users who had signed up to receive transit news electronically of public meetings. Several thousand users received meeting notices in this manner. In addition, Milwaukee County Transit advertised upcoming meetings on their "on-board" video screens running for the ten days prior to each round of public information meetings. Transit riders were included in focus groups held early in the study process, and the union representing bus drivers, has been briefed on an ongoing basis.

Fiction: Residents and businesses that will be impacted by the construction of overhead electric guide wires, poles and stations, have not been made aware of the project/do not understand what is at stake.

Fact: Again, more than 300 meetings with over 2,800 participants have been held in neighborhoods and communities that could be impacted by the options being considered. Businesses, neighborhood organizations and resident groups were specifically sought out for input. That input has guided the selection of routes and vehicles throughout the project.

Fiction: The Connector will not improve transit service and, in fact, will diminish service.

Fact: Not true. Transit service improvements in areas where the guided street tram would operate include, improved transit travel times, real-time vehicle arrival messaging at stations, improved ticketing and boarding, overall improved vehicle headways/frequency, curb level vehicle boarding (low floor for elderly, roll-on for disabled, wheelchairs, strollers, and pedestrians), and a more comfortable and quiet ride for users.

Fiction: Increased space between stops will reduce service and decrease ridership.

Fact: Existing transit demand, density, and connectivity with bus routes are among the many factors used in determining Connector station locations. Transit travel time improvements by changing station spacing are an important component for transit studies to evaluate and can have a positive impact on ridership. In fact, a study released by the Federal Transit Administration states,

"Over time there is a tendency for additional stops to be added to bus routes, as requests for service in front of more places are accepted. When stops are as frequent as every or every other city block, it may be useful to comprehensively re-examine the location of all stops. In addition to reducing the number of stops, citing stops so as to improve service (as discussed below) can be a component of a BRT project."

Station spacing for the Connector is consistent with other Light Rail and Bus Rapid Transit systems. For example, the average station spacing is 3-4 blocks, or 1,584 feet between station locations. Station spacing in other cities with fixed systems ranges between 1,856 feet (Denver) and 5,000 or more feet (St. Louis) between stations.

Fiction: The Guided Street Tram vehicles won't work in snow and ice.

Fact: This is absolutely wrong. There is nothing unproven about rubber tire articulated vehicles.The guided street tram technology has been tested in snow and ice and is being run in snow/ice conditions in Clermont-Ferrand. Because the guided street tram is a rubber-tire vehicle, it will operate in snow and ice very much like the current MCTS vehicles. Further, the vehicle track wheels exert 1,600-pounds of hydraulic pressure on the guidance system, more than enough to clear snow, ice and debris found in Wisconsin's climate.

See video of the Connector here: