This week, the Madison Common Council is slated to finalize capital and operating budgets. Alders have released more than two dozen proposed amendments to those budgets across a slate of issues.
One of those amendment could add a hiccup to the city’s plans for the future of bus transportation. Five Madison alders are proposing an amendment that would halt funds for Bus Rapid Transit, or B-R-T, until certain conditions are met.
First, the amendment asks city staff to propose an alternative to using State Street as a route for Bus Rapid Transit. Council President Syed Abbas ,one of the amendment’s sponsors, says that’s due to public pushback “as we heard significant concerns from stakeholders and the business community members as well as local vendors and their desire to create a pedestrian and bicyclist boulevard.”
And secondly, the amendment would suspend B-R-T planning work underway by city staff until alders sign off on modifications of bus routes under a related project to redesign bus routes. That project is called Network Redesign.
“The second part of the amendment is about Network Redesign, non-BRT routes. They’re basically removing some of the buses on the BRT routes, replacing them with BRT, and with Network Redesign, especially as a northside alder, we will have significant impacts with Network Redesign. Some people who used to get the bus in front of their door will have to walk,” says Alder Abbas.
Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway scorned the amendment in a press release on Friday, saying it looked like “a clumsy attempt to halt the project.” She tells W-O-R-T that the amendment is confusing and unnecessary.
“Either, they’re trying to make sure that the council has continued oversight over the Bus Rapid Transit project and the Network Redesign project – but the Council has oversight over both of those projects already. There’s a number of checkpoints going forward where the Council will have to vote to proceed on both of those projects . If what they’re looking for is that assurance, that’s already going to happen, and so the amendment isn’t necessary,” says Mayor Rhodes-Conway.
“If what they’re looking for design alternatives on the BRT project, we’ve been through that conversation already. Those design alternatives exist, Council has voted twice on it, staff are following the Council’s directions at this point. To make staff stop work and not be able to able to spend any money on the project, means they couldn’t produce any further design for the Council to vote on,” she says.
During the open budget process, the amendment only needs eleven alder votes to pass. Currently, five alders – that’s Carter, Harrington-McKinney, Myadze, Verveer and Council President Abbas – are sponsoring the amendment.
Abbas says the two projects – B-R-T and Network Redesign are related. He says the intention of this amendment is to ensure the city doesn’t waste future funds by redrawing routes again down the line.
“I’m a supporter of B-R-T. Asking for accountability and clarification does not mean that I want to kill the project. The Network Redesign and BRT projects are correlated, and that’s something I truly need to feel like something people need to understand. You’re running BRT on the same network of buses and removing them. This is making sure that Network Redesign is also visible – if staff already spend money and time on designs, and then they come to Council and we say that this particular design does not really fit well, then we might run into a similar project like State Street,” Alder Abbas says.
Mayor Rhodes-Conway pushes back. She says the council is still engaged in both projects, and will have the opportunity to make decisions on both projects next year.
“The Metro Network Redesign has been going on for months, there’s a great report out there with all the relevant information. Obviously the two projects are related and fit together, but they don’t have to move forward on the same timeframe or necessarily in concert. I think that to fully take advantage of Bus Rapid Transit project, we should engage in a Network Redesign because it’s an opportunity to make the most of these backbones of transit running through our community. We don’t have to do it, though. It’s not necessary to move Bus Rapid Transit forward.”
Mayor Rhodes-Conway adds that the amendment could delay Bus Rapid Transit and come with extra costs in the future – about five million dollars a year due to inflation. She says it could also jeopardize the entire project by threatening Madison’s place in line for federal funding.
“I feel very strongly that we need to keep these projects moving forward with input from alders. Let’s get that input, make sure we have those checks and balances, and not stop staff from doing the good work they’re doing on both of these projects,” she says.
The Madison Common Council will begin deciding the final capital and operating budgets tomorrow, with potential meetings on Wednesday and Thursday nights if needed. You can find meeting information here.