A bus rapid transit system in Wauwatosa could be closer than many expect.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced last year the county would explore the development of bus rapid transit in the corridor between the region's two largest job centers, downtown Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa. Conversations on the topic are beginning to surface locally.

Bus rapid transit systems increase travel speed as they allow buses to drive in separate, dedicated lanes and make fewer stops than typical buses, allowing them to be competitive with vehicle drive times. The vehicles are often specialized and longer than a standard bus to increase passenger capacity, and they have several doors to permit faster boarding.

Wauwatosa's Committee of the Whole heard a presentation on the topic Jan. 19 by representatives of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, an entity with staff assisting Milwaukee County in planning efforts.

The corridor, often referred to as the East-West Corridor, stretches from the western edge of Milwaukee County to downtown Milwaukee, said Kevin Muhs, principal transportation planner for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission during a city meeting Jan. 19.

There are currently existing transit services in the rapidly-growing corridor, said Muhs, including a bus line that runs every 15 minutes and another that runs every 45 minutes.

'They don't provide travel time that's competitive with the automobile,' he said of the existing routes.0

Muhs said bus rapid transit often gets accused of being a 'dumbed-down' version of a light rail service.

'The idea of bus rapid transit, the goal, is to provide a high quality bus service that mirrors the service you would get with light rail, but for less money,' Muhs said.

Muhs said bus rapid transit systems work well when they have the following tools: exclusive lanes on city streets only for buses, transmitters on buses so that drivers can extend a green light or turn a traffic signal light green earlier, high quality stations spaced further apart — every mile or half-mile — and improved vehicles with unique branding.

A handful of members of the Wauwatosa Common Council advocated against expanding Interstate 94 and the Zoo and Marquette Interchanges in December and called for alternate travel options, like bus rapid transit, electric car lanes and a commuter rail to be explored.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation proposed to add lanes to a 3.5-mile stretch of I-94 at a price tag of about $850 million.

And, earlier in the year, the Wauwatosa Common Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the expansion of the I-94 east-west corridor.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission looks to establish a narrow selection of possible locations by spring and choose locations for the routes by September.

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