I have long supported the connector project, but I oppose using guided bus technology for many reasons (see accompanying article Why Guided Buses are a Bad Idea). Suffice it to say that guided buses are not a cheap form of light rail, but a very expensive version of bus service.
During the past 4 years, the Downtown Transit Connector Study got off track. First the route grew too long which drove costs to unacceptable levels. Then, in order to address the cost issue, the study began to focus on a flawed and untested technology as a cheap substitute for proven light rail technology.
Following the April election, I took action to return the Downtown Transit Connector Study to its original purpose: developing a short, inexpensive transit route utilizing light rail technology that would connect Downtown Milwaukee with major visitor and tourist destinations. On May 16, 2004, I wrote Mayor Tom Barrett to ask him to support the Canal Street Connector as an alternative to the 12-mile guided bus connector currently preferred by the Downtown Transit Connector Study.
The Canal Street Connector that I propose would be a 4.65-mile route beginning at Miller Park on the West and terminating at O'Donnell Park on the lakefront. The route would connect Miller Park, the Potawatomi Casino, the planned Harley-Davidson Museum at 6th & Canal Street, most major downtown hotels, the Amtrak Depot, the Shops at Grand Avenue, the Midwest Airlines Center, City Hall, Cathedral Square and the Calatrava wing of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Numerous residential developments, restaurants and entertainment venues would be connected as well.
Significantly, the Canal Street Connector would not simply replace existing bus service as the guided bus connector does, but would constitute an entirely new transit line in a developing area of the city — the Menomonee Valley — which has no transit service. Finally, the Canal Street Connector could be expanded in the future to become a regional transit system by utilizing existing railroad rights-of-way which radiate to the west, southwest, and north from the vicinity of Miller Park (guided buses could not use these railroad rights-of-way because guided buses require the use of paved roads).
The cost to build the Canal Street Connector is $140.3 million — less than half the $300 million capital cost of the guided bus connector. This cost would be financed by the $91.5 million of federal funds previously set aside for a Milwaukee area mass transit project together with additional federal and local funding sources — the same funding sources that would be used for the guided bus connector. However, no Milwaukee property tax funds would be used for construction.
Annual operating and maintenance costs are estimated to be $3.56 million. Approximately 50% of this cost would be covered by fare box revenue. The remainder would be funded through state and local transportation aids. Currently, only 34% of the Milwaukee County Transit System operating and maintenance costs are covered by fare box revenue.
Average daily ridership would be approxi-mately 6,481 although this number would increase when the Menomonee Valley is fully redeveloped for commercial, light manufacturing and recreational use. Typical travel time from Miller Park to O'Donnell Park would be 16 minutes. Travel time from the Midwest Airlines Center to Miller Park would be 10 minutes. The Canal Street Connector would connect 14 hotels with approximately 2,950 rooms with 15 cultural and entertainment sites that draw approximately 14 million annual visitors. The light rail vehicles would be similar to equipment currently operating in Tacoma, WA., Portland, Or., and dozens of European cities. In contrast, the guided bus proposed for Milwaukee operates in only one city in the world — Nancy, France.
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