Milwaukee Connector

How long should it take to get downtown? From my home in Riverwest, it takes me 15-20 minutes by bus, 10 minutes by bike, and 5 minutes by car. If it’s too cold to bike, or I’m short on time, it’s an obvious choice to take my car. But what if I could take some form of public transportation that would get me there faster? Many cities with the same size and population density as Milwaukee have built some form of light rail or guided rail system that allows commuters to get downtown from the same distance as Riverwest in 10 minutes. Cities like Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Des Moines, and Cleveland are just a few. The Milwaukee Connector Team hopes to bring the same atmosphere of less traffic, faster public transportation, and better service that the above cities already enjoy to our fair city. For over four years, the Milwaukee Connector Project has studied public transportation options in Milwaukee with the goal of increasing the number of people who can travel to and from downtown Milwaukee with fewer cars and less air pollution. Jenann Olsen, outreach coordinator for the project, brims with exuberance when she discusses the possibility of bringing a guided street tram to Milwaukee. “One guided street tram could eliminate 1,200 diesel fuel-spewing bus trips each day,” said Olsen. That would mean a reduction of hundreds of tons of the green house gas carbon dioxide (CO2) a year. The CO2 that humans have produced since the start of the Industrial Revolution is partly responsible for the global warming that has occurred over the past 150 years. Along with the environmental benefits, there are other good reasons to support the Milwaukee Connector system, especially if you’ve suffered through rush hour traffic downtown or on the interstate. For me, it’s the thought of hundreds fewer buses with their loud, diesel-fuel spewing engines polluting our air with asthma-causing, climate-altering emissions. It’s also the thought of encouraging “people traffic” downtown — not vehicle traffic. For the Connector Project, the goal is to make Milwaukee more user-friendly, attractive to tourists, and urban-centric. After nearly 250 presentations and discussions across Milwaukee, Olsen says a guided street tram rather than a light rail system appears to be the most desirable. Light rail is much more expensive to build and operate, while the guided tram system offers the same convenience at half the cost. The tram would cost about $300 million to build; roughly 80 percent would come from federal funds and 20 percent would be locally matched. $91 million in existing federal funds could be used. Olsen says funding for the project would not affect property taxes. The guided street tram could be one of several types of multiple (three or four), connected units, anchored to the ground with one rail line and an arm that hooks to a guiding unit above. The tram would have its own lane. The tram technology being considered by the Connector Project is essentially a hybrid: it can detach itself from its guiding mechanism to use small wheels and a diesel engine. Best of all: it’s quiet. Where it is used in Europe, operators have to let out a little warning beep occasionally to alert bicyclists or walkers that it is coming. Can you imagine not hearing the bus from several blocks away? Look for a Public Hearing announcement at the end of 2004 when the Connector Team completes a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS). After the hearing, a locally preferred transportation alternative will be recommended to the Connector Team Steering Committee, who will make a formal recommendation to the Federal Transit Administration. If you support the Milwaukee Connector project, please let your elected public officials know.