Speaking The Truth

The streetcar builds on incredible momentum.

With just under $5 billion in investment completed, underway or planned in Milwaukee’s downtown, the area is the thriving center of a metropolitan region that is home to more than a million-and-a-half people. This downtown investment makes a Milwaukee streetcar system logical, sensible and affordable. The streetcar will serve, accelerate and enhance that development and bring it to more neighborhoods.

The streetcar not only connects people to the wide array of employment in downtown, but will create a significant numbers of jobs.

Estimates are that the streetcar's nearly $128 million transit infrastructure investment will support a few hundred construction jobs for masons, laborers, electricians, plumbers and others and hundreds of more jobs through discretionary spending, suppliers and subcontractors. The city is going to help fill those jobs with an extensive workforce development and training program and through its continued commitment to diversity which helps small and emerging businesses compete fairly for contracts.

The related Couture development is expected to create another 2,000+ construction jobs, with 40% of the work guaranteed for Milwaukee County residents and $23 million for disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs).

Of course, beyond this, the entire community benefits and additional jobs are supported through the "induced" spending…the re-spending of worker income on goods and services.

The route is short, but that's OK.

This is one point on which both supporters and skeptics agree. The approximately 2.5-mile initial route is short, but is intended only as a starter route. With additional funding, more segments will be built to bring the streetcar to other neighborhoods and create a fixed-rail transit system that operates around the city. It's not uncommon for streetcar systems in the U.S. to initially build starter routes. Seattle's first phase was about 1.3 miles. Portland started with 2 miles.

All of these cities have systems that started or will start with fewer than 4 route miles: Tacoma, Tampa, Little Rock, Kenosha, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Tucson, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City.

The streetcar reaches many people and destinations, and more are coming.

The initial 2.5-mile route connects 80,000 downtown workers, 25,000 downtown residents and millions of annual visitors. The route links the Milwaukee Intermodal Station (and its 1.4 million annual users) with employment areas and dense housing in the downtown, Historic Third Ward, Lakefront and lower East Side. The route connects catalytic new developments and some of Milwaukee's largest employers and major cultural and entertainment destinations.

Route extensions to the starter system will be built in the future. These extensions will link to Bronzeville, Walker's Point, Marquette University, the west side of downtown and additional East Side residential and commercial areas. The extensions will provide a direct connection to more population, employment, entertainment, and redevelopment areas.

Milwaukee has the density to support a streetcar system.

Milwaukee is the 14th most dense city in the U.S. and the only one of two of 30 cities with the highest density to not have or be planning a fixed-rail transit system. (The other is Fresno.) Milwaukee is denser than Portland, Denver, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, all with successful fixed rail transit.

Streetcars do operate very well in snow.

The largest streetcar system in North America, with 249 streetcars on 11 routes, is in Toronto, where annual average snowfall is 48". Milwaukee's average is about 52". A streetcar system is under construction in Detroit, with about 42" of snow each year, and currently Minneapolis and St. Paul, with about 52" of snow annually, operate light rail vehicles in downtown areas. Similar to all vehicles, including cars and buses, streetcars require snow plowing and removal from the traffic lane.

The federal funds cannot be used for something else.

The U.S. Congress, in the Federal Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, designated $54.9 million specifically for construction of Milwaukee's streetcar. Recently, 4th District Congressional Representative Gwen Moore clarified in a letter to Mayor Tom Barrett: "The Federal Transit Administration made it crystal clear a few years ago that these funds must be used for the streetcar project. Any attempt to change the purpose for these funds would require federal legislation, a prospect that would face daunting obstacles, including earmark bands in the House and Senate and new fiscal and political realities here in Washington, D.C." Additionally, The Federal Transit Administration has verified in writing that the funds cannot be redirected and that they can only be used for capital projects. When Gov. Walker turned down $810 million in federal funding for high-speed rail between Milwaukee and Madison, almost every dollar was pulled from Wisconsin and sent instead to California, Florida, Illinois and other states for high speed rail projects. (Wisconsin was allowed to keep $2 million for another rail transit system – Amtrak's Hiawatha line.)

Today's streetcars are a modern mode of transportation; they're not trolleys.

Make no mistake about it; Milwaukee's modern streetcars aren't "trolleys" – they will be nothing like the noisy, bumpy vehicles of the last century. Today's modern streetcar vehicles instead are sleek, modern, smooth, quiet, efficient and comfortable. Streetcar opponents often use the word "trolley" to evoke images of outdated transit and suggest that rail transit is out of date. It's not – ask residents in dozens of cities worldwide who eagerly ride modern streetcars.

Many people who do not ride a bus do ride modern streetcars.

Streetcars attract riders who rarely use transit because the vehicles are quieter, more attractive, more comfortable and, with their fixed route, easy to understand and use. Then, through streetcar use, we expect people will discover the benefits and advantages of public transit, and may increase their use of the bus system as well. Additional transit riders will also be found through anticipated increases in growth and density along the streetcar route.

A funding mechanism is in place for operating the streetcar.

Local roads, state roads, freeways, buses and streetcars all rely on a mix of funding sources. Public transit is not meant to make profit any more than roads or highways do. In most other U.S. cities, transit systems are funded through transit tax or other forms of regional transit authority funding. The Milwaukee Streetcar will not be funded with property taxes. Its operations will be funded through fares, sponsorships/advertising, federal grants and revenues from city-owned parking meters and lots, if needed.

A streetcar provides greater economic benefits than a bus.

Buses provide critical transportation service to thousands of people who need it to access jobs, education, entertainment, shopping, health care and more. But bus routes can be changed, and this is a disadvantage for economic development compared to fixed transit, such as streetcars. Fixed transit offers permanence, which better guarantees to developers and the marketplace that the system will not move tomorrow. Therefore, cities across the country are seeing robust economic development and investment along fixed lines.

And, while streetcar systems do require an additional initial capital investment, operating a streetcar system is often less expensive per trip or passenger mile than traditional buses. This is true for many reasons, including that streetcars have a higher capacity than a bus and can move more people more efficiently with fewer vehicles, and because streetcar vehicles last many decades longer than buses, which are typically replaced about every 15 years.

Taxpayers aren't hurt by the new TIF district that will help pay for the streetcar.

In fact, the TIF district and streetcar are essential to making the $122 million Couture development on the lake a reality. So the streetcar is already partly responsible for a major investment that would not otherwise take place. Under state law, revenues generated from a TIF district cannot be spent outside the district. Despite disinformation on the topic, these TIF funds cannot be used for schools, police, fire or other general city operations.

Once the streetcar is in operation, it will provide a boost to Milwaukee’s economy, attracting employers, employees, visitors and residents. The spending from this economic activity will benefit all residents and taxpayers.



The City of Milwaukee's official streetcar project website.