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June 2013 -- City Works to Avoid Utility Impacts

Analysis of potential utility impacts from the streetcar is now in full swing with final engineering work for the streetcar underway. So far, the city has eliminated utility impacts on 90% of steam tunnels, 75% of gas lines, 30% of electrical conduits, 50% of electrical manholes and 70% of access vaults to the steam tunnels, and that work continues. The Department of Public Works is working toward the goal of avoiding any impacts to utilities by making adjustments as needed to the streetcar plans.

Also, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee recently got involved in the streetcar utilities issue, passing a budget amendment intended to prevent utility companies from having to pay any costs to modify or relocate their facilities in the public rights-of-way to accommodate development of a streetcar. This proposed legislation, if approved as part of the state budget, would reverse long-standing law governing utility use of public rights-of-way.  That law mandates that utilities pay their own relocation costs to accommodate public works projects so that taxpayers are not further subsidizing private companies’ use of public streets.

Despite the Joint Finance Committee’s action, the project is moving forward.  As reported in a May 17, 2013 article in The Business Journal Serving Greater Milwaukee entitled "Streetcar still on track, city says:”

Milwaukee elected officials say the downtown streetcar’s $64.6 million budget easily will pick up utility relocation costs, and the early results of engineering work show they may be right.

Success in cutting those costs is crucial to the streetcar because money the city spends on utility relocations would come out of the reserve to build the streetcar system itself. A state budget proposal supported by the Legislature’s Republican majority would make Milwaukee, rather than utilities, pay the cost.

Even if city officials lose that political battle, it will not stop the streetcar, said Ald. Robert Bauman.

“This proposed change in 100 years of state law and practice is not going to affect the streetcar one iota,” he said. “If the costs stay within the current budget, (the Department of Public Works) has the green light to proceed.”

Mayor Tom Barrett said engineering for the streetcar will proceed.

“We don’t think that’s going to be a major problem,” he said of utility costs.

The streetcar’s original budget includes $7.4 million for contingencies that could cover the utility work, Bauman said. The final relocation costs will not be nailed down until late summer.

Additional information on utilities issues is available elsewhere on our website

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The City of Milwaukee's official streetcar project website.