After a recent financial blow, the city of Madison is pushing ahead with its mass transit priorities — without the support of millions in state financial aid.
As part of Wisconsin’s biennial budget, state lawmakers approved a one-time, fifty percent cut in transportation aid for the state’s two largest cities. All-told, Madison and Milwaukee will lose out on about forty million dollars in state aid over the next two years.
During budget deliberations, Wisconsin’s Republican legislators argued that the two cities didn’t need the funding, as both are set to receive millions of dollars in federal pandemic aid.
Speaking at a press conference today, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she wasn’t sure where the cuts would impact the city’s existing transportation projects. Rhodes-Conway has made transportation, and streamlining Madison’s mass transit, a cornerstone of her administration.
“We are still figuring out how we’re going to address that,” she says. “There obviously will be long-term financial impacts for the city overall.”
Despite the loss, Madison is pushing forward with its mass transit projects — notably a new Bus Rapid Transit system.
Madison’s Bus Rapid Transit initiative seeks to provide three high-speed bus lines connecting the city’s east and west sides. The $160 million program is being partially subsidized by the federal government.
The feds will cover roughly two-thirds of the program’s cost. It falls to the city to cover the remaining $53 million.
Rhodes-Conway says that, since Bus Rapid Transit is primarily based on federal and local funding sources, the recent state aid cut shouldn’t hamper the project.
“My hope is that it will not, because we are working directly with the federal government and then providing local funding,” Rhodes-Conways says. “But the cut in state transportation aid will obviously impact our transit system over the long-run.”
During today’s press conference, Rhodes-Conway unveiled new designs for two of the city’s Bus Rapid Transit stations located on State Street. Running the rapid transit line through the downtown retail hub has drawn criticism from neighbors and area businesses.
Rhodes-Conway says she hopes the proposed redesign will help address some of those concerns — notably those from local business owners.
“We have consulted with many store owners to understand their concerns in detail, and today we are releasing modified station designs for State Street that are considerably smaller, more transparent and which will have much less of an impact on visibility of business storefronts.
Madison’s Bus Rapid Transit program will begin construction in 2023, with a tentative start date of Fall 2024.
PHOTO: Jonah Chester