Common Council approves streetcar plan

CREATED Jul 26, 2011

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MILWAUKEE - A majority of Milwaukee Common Council members have hopped aboard the city's new streetcar plan.

The Common Council voted 10-5 to approve the 2.1 mile project that would create streetcars running from the Intermodal Station to the lower east side.

Jobs and economic development that would apparently come with the streetcars were among the reasons that common council members gave to support the project.

"Every growing major metropolitan area in the United States has rail as part of its transportation arsenal," said Mayor Tom Barrett, who supports the plan. " We are alone in not having that."

After Mayor Barrett's expected signature, the project will go to city engineers for the design phase, then construction would begin for a 2014 unveiling of the streetcar project.

One of its members, Alderman Bob Donovan, has suggested putting the issue in the hands of the voters with a referendum, but the Common Council denied the amendment.

"I just felt strongly that many of the issues raised ought to give us reason to pause," said Donovan in a conversation with Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jeff Wagner. 

"What do we have to lose getting the input from the people we ought to be representing?  Unfortunately, my colleagues don't see it that way."

He was one of the five members who voted against the plan, and he wishes the people of Milwaukee would have received the chance to vote on it.

"I believe that the majority of Milwaukeeans would have said no to this," said Donovan, who represents a south side neighborhood.

"I have the utmost respect for the collective common sense of the electorate, but we've got government by elitists, who seem to know better, evidently."

The total cost would run about $64 million.

Federal dollars would cover most of that amount, but Milwaukee would owe $10 million on its own.

The city would also have to pay at least $2 million each year for upkeep.

We Energies and AT&T would also have to be reimbursed for moving underground utility lines.

The modern streetcar system would be a 2.1 mile line between the intermodal station and Milwaukee's east side.

Mayor Tom Barrett is on board.

"This is an opportunity that we won't have for a long period of time, and we want to do this because we think it's going to add to the tax base of the community," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Alderman Joe Davis, like Donovan, voted against the plan.

"As a former County Board supervisor, I saw the street car trolley implemented downtown and it was just a failure, and these routes are pretty much the same," explained Davis, who represents the northwest side.

What do taxpayers think?

"I think there's much better ways to spend $65 million dollars," said Mike Halpin.

"This trolley is a really great deal, and it goes everywhere," Gloria Moss told us.

The common council discuss was set to begin at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday.