Friday, February 17, 2017

Milwaukee rail line win 20 years in the making

So great to see this story and headline: 

Milwaukee Streetcar route construction to begin in April

Service for the initial downtown route is expected to begin in fall 2018, and the lakefront line is expected to start operating in 2019.

The streetcar plan aims to connect the Milwaukee Intermodal Station with the city's lower east side.
Milwaukee Intermodal Station.jpg
And what an lesson about sticking with a vision - - from the Norquist years though the Barrett administration - - to beat back partisan, suburban-based opposition that kept the city from years of growth, as I wrote in 2008:  
The railroad not taken
Had plans unfolded on schedule, the starter light rail, with an estimated 21,000 riders on weekdays, would have opened in 2006 and run about 10 miles from the Third Ward to Summerfest, downtown, Miller Park, the Milwaukee County Zoo and the County Grounds.

Talk about a missed opportunity...

Extensions to Milwaukee's north side and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee would have generated support, and light rail could have assisted Waukesha County commuters because years of Zoo Interchange and I-94 reconstruction are planned west of Milwaukee...

In late January 1997, then-Gov. Tommy Thompson and aides showed the two-county transportation plan to local officials and asked them to support the package even if they disliked one or another element. As policy director to then-Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, I attended the meeting at which Thompson made his pitch. Though opposed to special lanes, Norquist agreed not to attack the plan.

Light rail already was controversial: The late business leader George Watts said publicly in late 1996 that light rail could deliver 'strangers' into unsuspecting communities and threaten their property and children - a remark some felt was racist. And 'light rail' was and continues to be aimed as a partisan, fear-laden phrase against Milwaukee and its urban, Democratic majority on conservative talk radio and in some Republican-dominated suburbs.

Sensing a backlash in Thompson's base, an administration spokesman told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a Feb. 1, 1997 article - just days after Thompson's presentation to Norquist - that not 'a nickel' of state money would be spent on light rail in Milwaukee. 

And, yes, things have somewhat changed. The initial routing. The equipment. There is a dedicated rapid bus planned from downtown to the Medical Complex.

But I am convinced the streetcar will be a success. There are new downtown venues and residents to serve. And just as Wauwatosa signed on to the dedicated bus route, its North Ave. development could someday be a rail destination.

Miller Park?  Mitchell Airport? Oak Creek's Ikea store? Who knows?

Many urban rail systems nationwide find their suburbs demand service when rail's advantages become obvious. 

So I won't get too far ahead of myself. It's just a good day for the urban agenda, and the beginning of something positive.

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