When it comes to creating a new transit system that would run along a seven-mile stretch in the east-west corridor, between the region's two largest job centers, downtown Milwaukee to the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, neighbors are at odds.
During a public information meeting April 14 at the Zoofari Conference Center, 10001 W. Bluemound Road, one man stood up with a microphone in his hand and asked those in favor of a possible bus rapid transit system to raise their hands.
A few did.
He then asked those opposed to raise their hands and the majority of those in the seated audience shot up their hands.
Money was put into Milwaukee County's 2016 budget to study the possibility of a bus rapid transit system, which may allow buses to drive in separate, dedicated lanes, make fewer stops than typical buses and make it possible for the buses to be competitive with vehicle drive times.
The vehicles are often specialized and feature unique branding and improved transit stations to enhance the experience for riders. The buses may also be equipped with road features such as traffic signal priority to help them maintain schedules.
Possible routes for the proposed system could include State Street or Bluemound Road. Wisconsin Avenue has been removed as it's the least desirable of all three options, Mayor Kathy Ehley has said.
"Why don't you put it to referendum?" one man asked during the public meeting. His question was one of many that evening as area residents voiced opinions in favor and against the proposed project, which is currently in its feasibility study phase. Members of the public also were invited to write comments on Post-It notes and stick them to a large map of proposed routes.
"This section is a bottle neck now, come up with something better," one comment said, placed near the Village of Wauwatosa.
"This is awesome!" said another.
Brendan Conway, chief marketing and communications officer for the Milwaukee County Transit System, said public meetings are "all about" gathering opinions from residents.
"We weren't surprised, nor were we disappointed," he said, adding the opportunity to discuss the proposal provided an opportunity to correct common misconceptions about the project.
About 20 officials, including representatives from Milwaukee County, Milwaukee County Transit System and WisDOT, were on hand to answer questions.
Bus rapid transit has many upsides, transit officials stressed. New solutions are needed to meet growing travel demands and traffic congestion in the east-west corridor. Traffic conditions are expected to decline in coming years during the anticipated I-94 reconstruction project, which could push traffic to local roadways.
Not only can it offer commuters an alternative way to get to work, bus rapid transit can assist those completing daily errands or seeking out entertainment options in downtown Milwaukee.
Another concern raised during the public meeting questioned why other parts of the greater Milwaukee area wouldn't be served by the bus rapid transit system, as the east-west corridor would serve those that live or work along that route.
Conway said in cities where the system has been successful, it's been expanded into a network of routes that serve new corridors.
Milwaukee County has created a stakeholder advisory group, representing local municipalities, residents, interest groups and employers, to review and comments n the study. The team will present preliminary alternatives to the public for additional input and will then refine alternatives and recommend a locally preferred alternative.
Based on input from the public and the stakeholder advisory group, the study team will present a recommendation to the cities of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa and the Milwaukee County Board.
Another public meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 18, although time and place have not been finalized.
The application for the project is expected to be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for grant money in August 2016. An exact cost for the proposed project has not yet been determined, said Conway, but the FTA requires a minimum of 20 percent local match. Conway said no new tax dollars would be used to fund the project, if approved.