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Alderman wants county help to kill streetcar

By Beth Kevit

(Rendering courtesy of

(Rendering courtesy of

A Milwaukee city alderman has asked the Milwaukee County executive to help kill a streetcar project by shifting $52.7 million in federal money away from the $64 million proposal.

Alderman Bob Donovan made the request of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele through a press release and letter Wednesday. Donovan said the operating costs and maintenance for the streetcar, which would operate in downtown Milwaukee, would cost an estimated $2.6 million annually, which the city cannot sustain.

Donovan said he believes Abele and Mayor Tom Barrett have a good relationship, so the executive might have some influence at City Hall.

“They could petition the federal government,” Donovan said, “and I feel they could be successful in reallocating that money.”

Barrett could not be immediately reached for comment.

Brendan Conway, Abele’s communications director, said Donovan’s request was unexpected and that Abele was not prepared to comment.

The $54 million in federal Interstate Cost Estimate Substitute money was approved alongside an award for the Milwaukee County Transit System, though the projects are separate, Donovan said, so it is appropriate for the county to insert itself into the streetcar debate.

He said he believes the money could be used for either the county’s bus system or to repair city roads.

However, according to a 2011 letter attributed to Peter Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, and addressed to Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman, the money cannot be used for anything other than the streetcar.


Bauman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Donovan discounted the information in the letter. Bauman approves of the streetcar, Donovan said, and the letter provides exactly what a supporter would want.

“The letter is wrong,” Donovan said. “Congress allocates the money, OK? Congress controls the purse. Congress can change its mind.”

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