According to new information released by transit officials, thousands of new riders could take advantage of a proposed bus rapid transit line along the heavily congested corridor between downtown Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa by 2035.

This news is the latest development in an ongoing feasibility study, which examines whether implementing a bus rapid transit system would be a plausible option for the region.

Planning officials predict such a service would ease traffic between the two large employment hubs, increase ridershop across the Milwaukee County Transit System by 40 percent and reduce transit trips in the corridor by 10 minutes.

Ridership projections

According to a news release from the Milwaukee County Transit System — using population and employment estimates, highway travel time, current transit data and information about the proposed BRT service — the project team estimates that in less than 20 years as many as 9,000 new riders will use MCTS daily on the bus rapid transit route and other routes in the corridor.

Planning officials estimate another 9,000 low income or transit dependent riders will take trips along the corridor every day with the proposed system, and BRT would help increase ridership across the MCTS system by up to 40 percent.

The proposed BRT system could also take cars off the road, according to the news release — as many as 6,100, reducing the number of miles driven by up to 17 million a year.

About bus rapid transit

Transit officials are continuing to study possible routes for the system along West Wisconsin Avenue and West Bluemound Road to connect the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa to downtown Milwaukee. Three alternative routes are also under consideration in the downtown area, including: Wisconsin Avenue, Wells Street and a Wisconsin/Wells hybrid alignment.

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.

The proposal has sparked debate in Wauwatosa about whether or not such a system is necessary; citing safety concerns, Wauwatosa parents have protested BRT saying it could endanger students' walk to school. But in a recent letter to the editor published in Wauwatosa Now Newspaper former aldermen Greg Walz-Chojnacki and Jeff Roznowski noted a BRT could improve quality of life.

Early estimates of the project to set up the line along an approximate 9-mile route range between $38 million and $45 million, according to a news release. Final cost estimates will depend on the route, stations and design elements of the bus lanes and buses, but federal funds are expected to cover 80 percent of the cost.

The application for the project is expected to be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for grant money in August 2016. The FTA requires a minimum of 20 percent local match. Brendan Conway, chief marketing and communications officer for the Milwaukee County Transit System, has said no new tax dollars would be used to fund the project.

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