Milwaukee’s new bus rapid transit line will use all-electric buses and provide quicker access to work, education, and health care for disadvantaged city residents.
Heralding it as “one of the most important and historic” transit projects in Wisconsin, local, federal, and state officials on Thursday broke ground on a new bus rapid transit (BRT) line in Milwaukee that will use all-electric buses while shaving about 10 minutes off the route it will replace.
“This BRT is a BFD,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said at the groundbreaking, referencing President Joe Biden’s infamous hot mic moment when he told former President Barack Obama the Affordable Care Act was a “big f—ing deal.”
The line will have stops spanning nine miles from Milwaukee’s lakefront to Wauwatosa. Traveling across the new line is estimated to take 34 minutes as opposed to the current 45-minute trip, according to Milwaukee County Transit System spokesman Matt Silker.
Crowley, US Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee), Gov. Tony Evers, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the new line will go a long way toward reducing racial disparities because it will connect people to jobs, schools, and health care.
“For many people in this community, eight miles away, it could be on another planet,” Barrett said.
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The groundbreaking came just two days after Republicans on the state’s Joint Finance Committee voted to slash transit funding for Milwaukee and Madison but also to move forward with the controversial expansion of Interstate 94 in Milwaukee.
“Thirty-five percent of households in this neighborhood do not have access to a motor vehicle,” said Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents some of the area covered by the new line. “Widening I-94 does them no good, but expanding bus service and improving bus service will absolutely do them good.”
“Seeing the actions of the Joint Finance Committee, it’s extremely disappointing,” Crowley said in an interview.
Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride also spoke, saying the project benefits suburbs as well because it helps strengthen the region’s urban core.
“Wauwatosa cannot thrive and survive without a strong Milwaukee,” McBride said. “It’s not just Wauwatosa. It’s South Milwaukee, it’s Brown Deer, it’s—dare I say—Waukesha, Ozaukee County, Washington County, Racine County.”
Funding for the project came largely from a $41 million Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant. Kelley Brookins, regional FTA administrator, called the project “transformative thinking” and said it is the type of project Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg hope to see more of if Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan comes to fruition.
Construction on the project is anticipated to finish in late 2022 , according to the Milwaukee County Transit System.
Milwaukee is just one of several cities across Wisconsin moving to a greener fleet of buses. From La Crosse to Wausau, transit authorities are phasing out old, inefficient diesel buses and replacing them with newer “clean” diesel, hybrid, or electric models.