I’m standing in a parking lot a couple blocks from the capitol building. Normally, this lot is empty, but today there is a large tent filled with people waiting to hear the Mayor’s announcement for the upcoming Bus Rapid Transit plan, or BRT.
“Thank you so much, Secretary, it’s really an honor to have you here, and it’s been a great partnership. And thank you all for joining us today,” began the Mayor’s speech.
The big news? Bus Rapid Transit is finally breaking ground.
“I am so excited to say that we are finally bringing rapid transit to Madison in a way that is transformative for our community members across the whole region,” she continued.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has made transportation one of her focal points during her time in office.
Improving the speed of buses across the city is part of a strategy intended to keep pace with rapid population growth in Madison, one of the fastest-growing cities in the state. Over the last decade, the city’s added more than 36,000 residents, and that growth isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon.
Faced with the possibility of tens of thousands of more cars on Madison’s streets, and physically constrained by the geography of the isthmus, the Bus Rapid Transit is designed to cut down on the time it takes to get from one side of the city to the other.
“We all deserve mobility choices to get us where we need to go in a reasonable amount of time, and East-West BRT will do that for tens of thousands of people,” said Mayor Rhodes-Conway.
The parking lot we’re standing in, Brayton lot, will be used to store and organize the materials and crews working on the new bus stations along the first of several lines to be constructed, the east-west line.
The Mayor says the Bus Rapid Transit line will have ripple effects. With better transportation, she says, come economic benefits.
“The East-West BRT line brings Madison into a league with other cities and regions that we regularly compete with for both jobs and people. And we have to be on the cutting edge of transportation, of housing, and of employment initiatives to make sure that we stay competitive with the other regions and cities around the country that are all looking for the same economic advantages that we’re looking for,” said Mayor Rhodes-Conway.
Also in attendance was Governor Tony Evers, who voiced his support and admiration for all those involved in the Bus Rapid Transit initiative.
“I often like to talk about connecting the dots, which is just my way of saying you have to see how every issue affects all others, and transit is one of those dots that connects to a whole bunch of other dots,” Governor Evers said.
Although Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has repeatedly stressed the need to improve Madison’s Metro Transit system, she’s faced stiff opposition along the way. Some have voiced concern with the related, and somewhat intertwined project called Network Redesign, which will overhaul the bus system.
While Network Redesign will come with more frequent service, fewer transfers, and more links to surrounding areas, it will also remove some bus stops from service, meaning a longer walk to the nearest stop for some. Final plans for network redesign were approved this summer, and the changes are slated to take effect next June.
The second line of Bus Rapid Transit is still to come. North and South side residents will need to wait until the second phase of the project to have a rapid transit line that runs near them.
The City of Madison has responded to these concerns by highlighting the Federal Transit Administration’s ridership criteria, which are necessary to meet in order to secure federal funding.
Construction of the East-West BRT will continue through 2023, with the first services scheduled to begin in 2024.
Reporting for WORT news, I’m Erin Ashley.