Barrett wants to up the downtown streetcar project's budget to $114M; construction could begin in 2015

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Critics say a proposed streetcar project in Milwaukee is going way off the tracks. This, after Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announces the budget for the project will nearly double.

Alderman Bob Donovan says he feels Milwaukee taxpayers are being taken for a ride.

"It was a ridiculous idea to begin with," Alderman Donovan said.

Originally, the project was set to cost roughly $65 million. The streetcar would loop through downtown Milwaukee.

In an interview Tuesday, November 18th with the Milwaukee Business Journal, Mayor Barrett said he'd like to up the budget to $114 million.

"We feel this is an exciting time for Milwaukee. We think there is a lot of momentum and we want the momentum to not only continue, but to accelerate," Mayor Barrett told the Business Journal.

The proposal increases the project to 4.6 miles of track and adds a stretch along the lakefront. It would be paid for using property tax increases generated by businesses and properties along the proposed line. The additional dollars would be used to potentially cover relocating underground utilities for the streetcar.

On Monday, November 17th, the city filed a lawsuit against the state's Public Service Commission after the group ruled the city must pay to move the lines at a cost of $25 million.

"That doesn`t even take into consideration what the maintenance costs, the operating costs down the road will be," Alderman Donovan said.

Donovan says aldermen have yet to hear an official proposal on the project, and while he's running for mayor against Barrett in 2016, he says there are lots of other ways to spend $100 million.

"I continually hear from people, 'Bob, why don`t we pave the roads before we start buying tracks and street cars downtown?'" Alderman Donovan said.

Construction on the downtown streetcar could begin by late 2015.

Alderman Donovan expects to vote on the issue in December.

FOX6 News reached out to the Mayor's Office for comment on this story -- but we did not hear back by deadline.

Alderman Donovan issued this statement on Wednesday, November 19th:

"It shouldn’t surprise anyone that, as reported yesterday by the Business Journal, the mayor is doubling down, and doubling the price of, the downtown streetcar.

If there’s any institution that can give us something we don’t want for twice the price, it’s government. But sadly, this speaks volumes as to just how out of touch the mayor is with average citizens—the same citizens who, of course, never wanted this streetcar to begin with.

All this is happening at a time when Milwaukee is facing monumental challenges, which sadly remain largely unaddressed.

When was the last time you heard the mayor say anything about MPS? What is the mayor proposing for the chronic, embarrassing and, yes, scandalous unemployment in Milwaukee’s inner city? And that’s not even to mention our continued neighborhood disorder and public safety problems.

It’s my understanding that the mayor’s ill-advised streetcar proposal will be introduced next week, and that he’s demanding a vote on it within the next several weeks. I’m urging citizens to contact their alderman and express their displeasure.

The mayor appears bound and determined, no matter what the cost, to shove this down the throats of our citizens!

I’m told the operating cost estimates have skyrocketed. How are we going to pay for that? How are we going to pay for maintenance? None of these things have even been mentioned and you can almost hear a pin drop in the mayor’s office when these concerns are raised.

The mayor may indeed view the streetcar as his legacy to Milwaukee. But if this goes through, he’ll be leaving more than just a streetcar. He’ll be leaving each and every one of us with a decades-long hangover."

CLICK HERE to read more on this story from the Milwaukee Business Journal.