Two Words About Mayor Tom's Trolley Folly
I have two words to say about the 10 - 5 vote by the Milwaukee Common Council to green light Tom Barrett's $65 million streetcar plan.
Seriously, is everybody down at City Hall high?
In all the years I've lived in this community,I think Mayor Tom's trolley folly may be the most irresponsible use of tax dollars ever conceived. By the way, I say that knowing that Milwaukee is the city that gave us the Deep Tunnel, the $37 million largely vacant lot that is the Park East corridor and the $41 million spectacularly refurbished but grossly unnecessary and underutilized Milwaukee Auditorium aka Milwaukee Theater.
For a starting cost of $65 million, we get a streetcar that will run start at the bus station, run east on St. Paul, go north on Broadway, then east on Mason, then north on Jackson, then east on Ogden. If you're having trouble picturing the route, don't worry - you've probably never driven it because there was never a reason to.
I swear, I don't know who they think is going to ride this thing? The route doesn't take you to the Lakefront. The route doesn't take you to Marquette. The route doesn't take you west of the river. Heck, the route doesn't take you anywhere you might want to go that you couldn't walk to easier and faster.
Mayor Tom's folks claim that the streetcar line will lead to $3.35 billion in economic development within twenty years. Of course, these are many of the same folks that told us that sinking $37 million into the moonscape that is the Park East project a decade ago was going to lead to an economic revitalization of that area. How's that projection working out?
Proponents also claim the route will have almost 600,000 riders by 2015. The people making these estimates are either smoking crack or using the same math that predicted we'd have 200,000 people a year using the bike racks that we spent over $400,000 to install on County buses.
Speaking of the Milwaukee County Transit System, just who is going to operate this streetcar line? Further, to the extent anyone actually uses the thing, it's inevitable that ridership will it come at the expense of the already struggling bus system (which services the same route and many more).
My suggestion was to run a rubber tire trolley along this route for a couple of months to measure actual ridership. This was a non-starter because Mayor Tom and the majority of the Common Council knew that their usage estimates would look stupid.
Alderman Donovan called for a citywide vote to measure interest. This idea got shot down because proponents knew a streetcar referendum would fail 70 - 30.
Let's look at the big picture though.
This is the Milwaukee where even modest rains cause sewer backups into basements and lead to the dumping of millions of gallons of polluted water into Lake Michigan. It's the same Milwaukee where the public school system is a national disgrace, the employment picture is bleak, mobs loot stores and poverty is abundant.
Rather than confront these issues however, Mayor Tom and the Common Council have decided to double down on a streetcar line the City can't afford and that very few people will use.
I guess the lesson is that people in Milwaukee get the government they deserve.
Still, I think drug tests at City Hall are in order - because I can't believe that anybody would have ever supported this foolishness unless they were really, really high!