MADISON — Milwaukee’s streetcar has turned out to be what many predicted: A huge money suck.
With The Hop in mind, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) has introduced an amendment to the Surface Transportation Investment Act that would relieve local governments from having to pay back federal transit grants for projects that are later found to be unsustainable.
Johnson said the amendment would significantly impact Wisconsin because taxpayers would no longer have to foot the bill for the boondoggle that is The Hop. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s pet project has annual operating costs of $4.6 million with scant ridership. As reported, the city is operating the streetcar at a $3.17 million annual deficit.
The Hop is such a boondoggle that it would cost nearly as much to shut it down as it would to keep it operational with its current limited rider base. If the city doesn’t operate the streetcar for at least 25 years, it would have to pay back more than $60 million in federal grant money.
Johnson ’s bill would remove federal strings on grants by forgiving localities from having to pay back federal grants for public transit projects if they uninstall the projects.
The bill also would give localities like Milwaukee the flexibility to determine the best course of action and allow the city to make prudent fiscal choices and avoid wasteful spending.
The Surface Transportation Investment Act pumps $78 billion over five years into multimodal surface transportation, rail, freight, and safety programs.