State lawmakers slam brakes on Milwaukee streetcar project

MADISON (WITI) -- The State Legislature's Budget Committee slammed the brakes on Milwaukee's proposed rail project in Madison on Thursday, May 9th.

The $65 million project would be funded through $55 million of federal money and nearly $10 million from a TIF district. But the two-mile streetcar line would run right along a route where there are utility lines. Those lines would have to be moved at an estimated cost of $50 million. It would be the utility company's responsibility to move those lines and costs would be passed on to customers.

Republicans in Madison were united in opposition to the idea of passing the expense to utility customers.

"Essentially what this says is that costs cannot be born by the rest of the state, the suburbs of the city of Milwaukee," said State Rep. Dale Kooyenga.

Democrats called it big government meddling from Madison.

"What's coming next?  Are we going to tell Milwaukee how to pick up their garbage?" asked State Sen. Bob Wirch.

In a 12-to-four vote, the Joint Finance Committee passed the motion. That means if the project were to continue, the city would have to find the money to move the utility lines.

"I think it's the wrong step to take especially when we are 44th in the nation in job creation.  This would have brought jobs to downtown Milwaukee and made downtown Milwaukee a much more engaging place to be," said State Rep. Jon Richards.

"We're not saying they can't have a streetcar.  We're saying if they want a streetcar and move utility lines, they have to absorb that in the cost of the project," said State Rep. Kooyenga.