City’s streetcar desire prompts utility projects
Before rails are put in place for the system, the city must map and relocate all of the underground sewers, water pipes, power cords and communication lines in the streetcars’ path, said Jeff Mantes, Milwaukee Department of Public Works commissioner.
Moving the utility lines is necessary to allow for easier maintenance and repair, Mantes said.
“If, say you have a big water main break or something that takes a longer time to fix, you don’t want to have your (streetcar) system shut down when that’s being fixed,” he said.
The city plans to finalize a route for the streetcars and start preliminary engineering in early 2010. The first phase, which will cost roughly $70 million, is to start in 2011. An $87.5 million second phase will begin in 2012 if the city receives the $70 million in stimulus money it applied for last week. Phases three and four are estimated to cost $227.5 million each. Start dates for those phases have not been set.
The proposed route for the line — from the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, east through the downtown and north to the city’s lower-east side neighborhood — has some of the oldest sewers in the city, said Richard Wanta, executive director of the Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association.
Regardless of cost, he said, it’s a good idea to replace the old utilities. It would be unfortunate for a state-of-the-art streetcar to be shut down by a 100-year-old broken sewer, Wanta said.
Rerouting pipes for the streetcar system, which would run 17.5 miles when all four phases are complete, could create enough work for underground contractors to satisfy the city’s new hiring rules, Wanta said. The city this year increased the number of hours that city residents hired by contractors must work on city projects. Contractors need a long-term source of projects to generate enough fieldwork to give residents meaningful training, instead of temporary jobs, he said.
“That’s an opportunity to put people to work, you know?” Wanta said. “It’s not just for the people that are building the rail lines.”
There are tram systems that don’t require the city move all of the underground lines, Mantes said, because the trams can disconnect from the track. But that option, which the city considered before settling on the streetcars, would have cost $300 million just for the first phase, he said. The $35 million per-mile cost of building the streetcar is cheap by comparison.
“There’s always advantages and disadvantages to different systems,” he said.