Milwaukee officials are opening a new line on Sundays, only during the coldest months of the year
The City of Milwaukee announced this week that it is building out a new line for the $128 million streetcar known as The Hop.
Starting Oct. 29, the so-called “L Line” will be open Sundays — and Sundays only — between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. “Full service” on the line that will eventually stop at the Couture development at 909 E. Michigan St., near the lakefront, won’t begin until the spring of 2024, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report.
Unanswered anywhere by the strangely incurious media is why the city would open that line now.
The 44-story Couture apartment complex won’t be even partially finished until next spring, and its “transit plaza” won’t be open until then either, so the streetcar will reportedly only run through the construction site — but not stop — for at least six months. Ridership in the winter, in addition, is particularly low on Sundays.
One of the city’s main goals with The Hop, moreover, is building a “diverse and inclusive workforce free of discrimination.” Running a streetcar to a closed construction site on Sunday morning seems an odd way to get anyone to a job.
Milwaukee Department of Public Works officials said in a press release that the new line will provide a “unique opportunity” for riders to see the inside of the construction site. And Brian Rothgery, a Marketing and Communications Officer for the City of Milwaukee, told me he thinks the “phase in” is consistent with how the city tried to build ridership with the existing M Line.
“We know the public has been eagerly awaiting the opening of the L Line, and we’re pleased to be able to offer this opportunity for our city to begin exploring the new L Line even as the Couture construction continues to progress overhead,” added Public Works Commissioner Jerrel Kruschke in a press release. The “preview service will be tremendously valuable both in terms of allowing the city to become acquainted with the new route and how it will interface with the existing M Line, while also allowing our operators to fine-tune this service in advance of a very exciting summer in Milwaukee next year.”
Count me as cynical.
I asked Rothgery whether the opening of the long-planned extension might somehow be tied to federal grant requirements. He said he doubted it but did not know for sure.
Most of the funding for the extension project reportedly came from a federal grant in 2015, part of an infrastructure program known as TIGER, and federal money was also used long, long before that to build the old Transit Center that once sat on the site.
“The Milwaukee County Board in 2014 sold the property at the bargain-basement price of $500,000 to Barrett Lo Visionary Development LLC. The agreement carried with it a requirement that the developer include a transit concourse as part of its proposal to build The Couture, the tallest apartment tower — 44 stories — in Wisconsin,” we noted.
We also noted that if the project was not built with a Hop connection, “not only will county taxpayers owe the (Federal Transit Administration) $6.7 million, city taxpayers will shoulder the repayment of a $14.2 million FTA grant that was used to build the unfinished East Michigan and East Clybourn streetcar extension.”
We’ll update this story when the city tells us whether the decision to open the extension on cold Sundays has anything to do with federal requirements or not. But the story of the federally funded streetcar, which has low ridership even though it is free, continues to show how wasteful decisions are made — and even mandated — when local politicians clamor to spend federal money just because they can.
Mike Nichols is the President of the Badger Institute. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.
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