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Milwaukee official blasts state’s streetcar bill

(Rendering courtesy of www.themilwaukeestreetcar.com)

(Rendering courtesy of www.themilwaukeestreetcar.com)

A state Assembly bill that would prohibit state dollars from being spent on a long-planned streetcar project in Milwaukee gained traction this week after receiving a legislative committee’s approval.

Assembly Bill 562 was passed on a 9-5 vote Thursday by members of the Assembly’s transportation committee.

One Republican, Rep. Alvin Ott of Forest Junction, joined four Democrats as dissenters.

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman responded to the committee’s vote with some strong words for the bill’s supporters.

“I’m dumbfounded at the stupidity of these people,” Bauman said Friday morning.

He implied that the legislation is unnecessary, saying that in “no way, shape or form” was the city planning to use state money on the streetcar.

Asked about lawmakers’ possible motive, he replied, “I don’t know what it is. It’s just outright ignorance.”

The proposed $124 million streetcar project is to consist initially of a 2.1-mile downtown loop that city officials hope will serve as the starting point for extensions reaching into even more neighborhoods.

In January, at the most recent meeting of the city’s Joint Committee on Downtown Streetcar Implementation, consultants told committee members the city would be ready to issue construction bids within 90 days.

Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development, said then that the streetcar will help spur further downtown development.

At least one project, the 44-story, $122 million Couture high-rise near the city’s lakefront, already has plans showing a connection to the streetcar line. The mixed-use development will include a streetcar stop to be built where an underused transit center now stands near the lakefront.

Despite enjoying wide support from city officials, the plans have met with skepticism in other parts of Milwaukee County and the state.

Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum and a sponsor of the bill, said on Wednesday he is skeptical of assurances that there will be enough money to keep the streetcar running after it’s built. Hence his legislation’s ban on using money from the state’s transportation fund to pay for operating costs.

“I don’t know if we want to put one more large-ticket item onto that until we get our transportation issues in order,” Kremer said Wednesday.

Operating costs aside, much of the money for building the streetcar line is coming from federal grants. The project has so far received $54.9 million worth of federal stimulus money and a $14.2 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant that will help pay for the extension to the city’s lakefront.

Kremer is not the first state official who has moved to limit which entities can help finance the downtown streetcar.

Current law already prohibits Milwaukee County from spending money on the project unless those expenditures will eventually be reimbursed in full by the city. Kremer’s proposed legislation would make the same requirement apply to state government and its agencies.

In addition, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission in August 2014 upheld a state budget provision prohibiting utility companies from paying to move power lines or other equipment from the streetcar’s path.

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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