By Meredith Melland Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Mar 31, 2024 at 12:01 PM

Milwaukee County residents are weighing in this month on plans for CONNECT 2, a new bus rapid transit line planned for 27th Street, and how it could affect their neighborhoods.

The Milwaukee County Transit System, or MCTS, plans to use CONNECT 2 to strengthen transit service on the heavily used PurpleLine route.

CONNECT 2 also aligns with Milwaukee County’s goal of achieving racial equity by attempting to improve transit access for communities of color along the corridor.

“Reliable and safe transit options are paramount in addressing the health disparities right here within our community,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said at a news conference at the project’s Feb. 27 public information meeting.

The $148 million project is in the environmental review and design phase and will not be ready for riders until at least 2028.

MCTS has been gauging public interest in the faster CONNECT 2 bus route. It is taking feedback until the end of March.

Some community members and bus riders voiced their concerns at public information meetings for the project held in late February.

“It’s going to be pretty helpful for me because … sometimes I wouldn’t have to take more than one bus because it’s going to go all the way down to Bayshore and stuff,” said Quartaria Wilder, who lives near Walker’s Point and is a member of the MCTS Transit Teen Advisory Board.

Sam Kovnar, a MCTS bus rider who lives on the South Side and attended a public information meeting at Wilson Senior Center, 2601 W. Howard Ave., said he thought the plans looked good.

“I think there are a few places that look to me like compromises, but I can also see the reasons for not having things like a dedicated lane or certain features on the stops,” he said. 

However, David Ashley, who lives near 27th Street in Midtown, said he felt the plans did not keep enough stops in densely populated areas on the North Side and parts of the South Side.

“I understand cuts have to be made, but you don’t want to cut the most vulnerable people away from their source of public transportation, or transportation period,” he said.

How will it work?

CONNECT 2, also known as the Milwaukee North-South Transit Enhancement project, will follow an 18-mile route that’s similar to the PurpleLine but with fewer stops.

David Locher, manager of enhanced transit at MCTS, said CONNECT 2 will build off of results from CONNECT 1, the  bus rapid transit, or BRT line, that runs between Downtown Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.

“We want to do the same things: achieve travel time savings and increase the frequency between buses, and ultimately, what we want to do with BRT is to make a more consistent and reliable service,” Locher said.

The project’s concept plan does not include in-depth designs yet, Locher said, and the designers will use public feedback as they move forward.

Addressing disparities and equity

Of 118,000 people living within a half-mile of the CONNECT 2 planned route, 73% are people of color, according to the project’s website.

Within this area, 21% of households do not have a car, 25% are in poverty and 15% of people have disabilities, all higher than the Milwaukee County averages, according to the American Community Survey data from 2014-2018 used in the project’s feasibility study.

If bus service along 27th Street and Layton Boulevard is more reliable and efficient, it will help residents access jobs, medical centers, schools and essential services, according to Robert Schneider, an urban planning professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

How could it affect Milwaukee’s neighborhoods?

With proposed stops planned near vacant lots, Schneider sees potential for community reinvestment in neighborhoods along the CONNECT 2 route.

“Each of those things provide an opportunity for a new building to go in, or some kind of reinvestment that provides for new jobs, new potential services like health care, new shopping opportunities and other investments that hadn’t been made in a lot of these neighborhoods for a long time,” he said.

Locher said that MCTS plans to continue the underlying PurpleLine service when CONNECT 2 is added, but will analyze if changes will need to be made to the service.

“Our commitment is to find ways to not leave anyone behind,” he said.

Ashley said he thinks the BRT line will be successful if PurpleLine service is maintained because it will meet everyone’s accessibility needs.

“If that’s the path they want to go with, let’s ride,” he said.

For more information

Anyone interested in giving feedback on CONNECT 2 can complete a survey by March 31 and be entered in a raffle for 10 WisGo cards with a week of free rides or contact the project team.