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Barrett challenger promises no more streetcar extensions ‘whatsoever’

By: Alex Zank, [email protected]//November 29, 2017//

Barrett challenger promises no more streetcar extensions ‘whatsoever’

By: Alex Zank, [email protected]//November 29, 2017//

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In announcing his plans to challenge Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in 2020, Tony Zielinski slammed the city’s new streetcar line and vowed the system would not be extended under his watch.

Zielinski, who represents parts of Milwaukee’s south side on the city’s Common Council, announced on Wednesday at the Milwaukee Police Association Union Hall on West Bluemound Road that he will not seek re-election as an alderman and instead has his sights on the mayor’s office.

Speaking earlier in the day, Zielinski said the city’s priorities should be repairing crumbling streets and replacing street lights rather than the streetcar project. Current work on the streetcar project’s initial 2.5-mile downtown streetcar loop and a related lakefront extension is expected to finish next year.

Zielinski, a frequent opponent of the streetcar system, promised that, if elected mayor, he would ensure there would be “definitely no extensions whatsoever.” He also pledged to look for ways to shut down the streetcar without incurring penalties from the federal government.

The $124 million streetcar system has received $54.9 million from the federal government. The rest has come from tax-increment financing.

Even while putting the federal money to the project’s initial phases, city officials have made clear plans for further extensions. The city, for instance, has applied for $20 million in federal grant money to cover half of the expected cost of a line extension along North 4th Street. City leaders have also held public hearings on possible extensions into the Bronzeville neighborhood to the north and Walker’s Point to the south.

Zielinski – who was first elected to the Common Council in 2004, following 16 years on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors – said the extensions mean even more money would be put into the streetcar, a project he has deemed a waste of the city’s time and resources.

“It’s going to be more costly for extensions because we’re not going to be getting any more money from the federal government for operations or capital costs,” he said.

He said he regularly hears constituents complain about potholes and burnt-out streetlights. Some residents, Zielinski said, have even said the alleys near their homes are in such a state of disrepair that they can’t be plowed after it snows.

“Our infrastructure is crumbling, and we don’t have any money for that, but we’re going to do the streetcar?” Zielinski said.

Zielinski said the city should set aside more money for police. He also boasted of his aldermanic district’s recent success with economic development.

“We’ve just got other priorities,” he said.

Proponents of the streetcar say it will both spur economic development and provide residents and visitors with yet another means of public transportation. The Couture, a $122 million high-rise being built near the city’s lakefront, was designed to have a stop along the streetcar’s lakefront line.

Responding to Zielinski’s announcement, Patrick Guarasci, a political adviser to Barrett, said the mayor is not spending much time thinking about the next election, which is still more than 2 1/2 years away.

“Tom, the only mayor in Milwaukee history to win 3 consecutive elections with over 70 percent of the vote, remains focused on creating more good paying jobs in the city for everyone, capitalizing on the boom in the heart of the city downtown so that every neighborhood flourishes, and protecting our families by creating a safer city,” Guarasci wrote in an email.


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