By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
If you need to get around Milwaukee County and don’t have a car, an affordable option is the bus. For $2.25 (or less if you have the M-CARD) you can ride the bus to practically anywhere, the downside being the time it takes to get there, which includes traffic, switching lines and more.
For being many people’s primary mode of transportation, the Milwaukee County Transit System is always looking for ways to improve. On Thursday, June 10, MCTS along with several elected officials attended the groundbreaking ceremony at 748 N. 27th St., the home of MCTS’s new initiative: The East-West Bus Rapid Transit project, also known as BRT.
The BRT route, once completed, will be nine miles long. The objective is to improve one of Milwaukee’s most congested corridors and increase access to downtown Milwaukee, Marquette University, Milwaukee’s Near West Side, Wauwatosa and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center. The buses will be battery-electric buses provided by Nova Bus.
Dan Boehm, the president and managing director at MCTS, explained that the start of the BRT project began five years ago. The MCTS team with support from elected officials and community partners is bringing this plan to fruition.
“We’re here to celebrate a first of its kind undertaking in this state, that will allow for more connections between major employment, education, recreation destinations throughout the county,” County Executive David Crowley said during the press conference. “This is an investment in equity that will help provide a more efficient, high frequency service for residents with disabilities, people without vehicles, families sharing a single vehicle, people without licenses and a host of others who traditionally rely on transit to navigate Milwaukee County.”
Crowley said that the BRT project falls in line with his plan to achieve racial equity and make Milwaukee County the healthiest county in the state. Every community in Milwaukee County should have connections to job centers, medical offices, grocery stores and more.
“This historic project strengthens our entire transit network and makes it a breeze for residents to travel throughout the area,” he said. “It’s an important service that advances our racial equity goals and moves us closer to fulfilling our vision in Milwaukee County.”
Now is not the time to cut the transit budget, he said.
Gov. Tony Evers said that the BRT will make it easier to get around, while still being sustainable. It’s going to boost the local economy, he said, which is especially important as the state strives to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Strong infrastructure and a robust transit system are absolutely vital to that goal,” he said.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who has long been an advocate for public transit, was also in attendance at the press conference. She recalled the many times she rode the bus as a child to Milwaukee County Hospital. Recently, she went to visit her sister at St. Luke’s Hospital from her house on 20th and Capitol; the trip took her almost two hours one-way.
That is an unsustainable way of travel, she said.
“This is a project that is long overdue,” she said.
Mayor Tom Barrett recalled that when he was growing up, the west side of Milwaukee was home to many health care facilities. And then the decision was made to move the medical facilities further nearly eight miles west. Patients and the medical workforce felt the ramifications.
“Rather than having a short visit to get to the hospital, it became a major task to get medical care,” Barrett said. “Why do the poorest of the poor have to take transportation that takes hours, to get the services that they need?”
That’s why the BRT is a big deal, he said, it’s going to make it easier for people to have access to health care.
Ald. Robert Baumann (District 4) said that residents living in the surrounding area rely heavily on transit. He said about 35% of households do not have access to a motor vehicle.
“Widening 1-94 does them no good but expanding bus service and improving bus service will absolutely do them good,” he said.
Dennis McBride, the mayor of Wauwatosa; Vanessa Llanas, regional representative for Sen. Tammy Baldwin; Kelley Brookins, an FTA regional administrator; and Craig Thompson, WisDOT secretary-designee were also in attendance.
The project is estimated to cost $54.8 million and BRT service is expected to being in fall of next year.
“Connecting workers to jobs, businesses to customers, and residents to health care services are key parts to how we fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Crowley said.
“We all must do what we can do keep transit services funded and reliable for those who need it most.”
For more information on the East-West Bus Rapid Transit go to eastwestbrtmke.com.