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The Wauwatosa Common Council gave its endorsement for a proposed bus rapid transit system in a divided 10-5 vote June 21.

The council approved a locally preferred alternative route that would connect major employment hubs and run from downtown Milwaukee to the Swan Boulevard Park and Ride in Wauwatosa, primarily along Wisconsin Avenue and Bluemound Road.

'It was an important first step in this process,' Conway said of the council's approval, adding that whether or not council members have supported the idea, they've been supportive in helping to educate the public about the project.

City aldermen debated the issue at length June 21.

Alderwoman Allison Byrne said the proposed system is a 'quality of life issue' and could help citizens with disabilities or those living at or below the poverty line without ready access to vehicles.

Alderman Bobby Pantuso said he considered Wauwatosa a very 'car-centric community,' and while he owns two vehicles himself, he said the transit system could alleviate the need to drive.

'I'd like to see this start because if we don't try to start the process, we'll never get to the finish line,' he said.

Those elected officials who voted in favor of the project were: Dennis McBride, James Moldenhauer, Bobby Pantuso, Matt Stippich, Joel Tilleson, Jason Wilke, Craig Wilson, Cheryl Berdan, Allison Byrne, Kathleen Causier. And those who voted against: Tim Hanson, Michael Walsh, Nancy Welch, John Dubinski and Jason Kofroth. 

About the project

The seven-mile route would connect major employment centers between the lakefront in Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and the Milwaukee County Research Park.

Spokesperson for the Milwaukee County Transit System Brendan Conway said the new transit system would make one-way trips in 35 minutes compared to the 51-minute trips offered by current bus services.

Early estimates from the Milwaukee County Transit System predict the project could cost up to $48 million. 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.

Local concerns

The proposed project has been a hot-button issue locally for some time. In March, Wauwatosa parents in the Ravenswood neighborhood protested the alternative mode of transportation as they walked their children to school. Many parents said the danger of the already congested, busy roads could be elevated even more by the addition of a bus rapid transit line.

Wauwatosa resident Ted Hein said he's concerned about whether the project is necessary, adding he already sees half-full buses travel by his Wisconsin Avenue home.

'There doesn't seem like there's a need,' he said, adding buses 'are extremely hard on streets.'

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele released the following statement earlier this month after the Wauwatosa Transportation Affairs Committee approved the plan:

'At public input sessions and neighborhood association meetings, on campuses and in boardrooms, Milwaukee County has heard overwhelmingly from people in the City of Milwaukee and all around the county that Bus Rapid Transit will make our transportation system more efficient and help more people connect with jobs.'

What's next

A grant application for the project is scheduled to be sent to the Federal Transit Administration in August. The city of Wauwatosa would have additional opportunities to review and approve final alignment of the project before construction would begin in 2018.

Conway said the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee County Board still need to approve the locally preferred alternative route, which he predicted would happen in July.

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