As a Millennial living in Lake Michigan-blue Milwaukee who grew up in the ruby red of Waukesha County, you could say my Facebook Newsfeed offers up its fair share of competing opinions. But through the last 3 divisive presidential elections, Act 10 and the attempted recall of our governor, and even the retirement/unretirement of Brett Favre, I have never “unfriended” someone because of their opinion. Well, I think I’ve found my tipping point: the Milwaukee streetcar.
You see, people can have their own opinions about politics and sports allegiances, and even whether investing in public infrastructure is a good idea (it is). But I cannot accept the willful misinformation spreading around town about the Milwaukee streetcar when there are verifiable facts to reference. So here goes: if you see a discussion raging online about the Milwaukee streetcar, please link to this article and the following facts.
Yes, it is going to be called “The Hop“. Yes, there were better options. No, you and I don’t get a direct say. No, a name doesn’t make a piece of machinery inherently a failure or success. The Empire Builder Amtrak line from Chicago to Seattle sure ain’t building no empires in Montana.
1. $54.9 million from the federal government
Thanks to the U.S. Congress, in the Federal Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, this complete amount cannot be used for any other purpose besides the Milwaukee streetcar. It cannot be used to fix roads, pay firefighters and police, battle the opioid epidemic, or buy more buses. It is not part of the Milwaukee budget. It is not ours to choose how to use it, only whether to use it or not. We chose to use it.
Similar to how our buses often have Pabst signs on the side of them, the Milwaukee streetcar will have sponsorships and advertisements to offset costs. In fact, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino has already committed to a 12-year, $10 million naming rights sponsorship (The Hop, presented by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino).
3. Federal Grants
The Feds historically like giving grants to big, shiny infrastructure projects like streetcars (vs bike lanes or bus stops). The streetcar was started with one, and it’s probable we will qualify for more in the future.
4. TIF Taxes
A TIF (tax incremental financing) district has already been created around the soon-to-rise Couture, in large part because of the promised streetcar extension. This eventual TIF money cannot be used outside of that immediate district, so cannot go to schools, firefighters, or similar. It can, however, go to the streetcar that helped spur investment there in the first place.
Fares have already been set for the first year of operation: $0. Part of Potto’s sponsorship deal is covering all fares for year one. After that, fares will go directly to the operation of the streetcar system.
The starting route will be 2.5 miles long. Nearly every other streetcar system in the US started at or below that length before expanding further. Plans are already in place for expansion about the city, but the system must start somewhere. If people are already complaining about a $55 million 2.5 mile route, can you imagine the uproar over a $100 million 5 mile route?
Fun fact that we previously wrote about extensively: for many years, Milwaukee had a very robust and successful streetcar system. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.
Modern streetcars are not “trolleys” despite what local rabble-rousers love to say. They can operate in snow. Car drivers are capable of driving next to one without spontaneously crashing. Some 17 other major US cities have them in operation, with more in building or planning stages.
It’s unknown how many people will choose to ride the streetcar once it’s operational. City estimates state 1,850 rides per day and over 595,000 rides per year in the first full year of operations. And that’s on a starter route.
Lines have been drawn in the sand (or rather, tracks have been laid in the road); I don’t expect this article to convince any naysayers that the streetcar is a good idea. At the very least, if you complain, make sure that you’re using arguments not easily refuted by the facts in this article. I’ll see you all on The Hop come fall 2018.