The Madison City Council is scheduled to vote to temporarily halt funding for the Bus Rapid Transit project (BRT) until it approves plans for alternate routes that avoid the State Street and Capitol Square areas.
BRT, which has been championed by Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, aims to add additional bus stops, reduce transit times for riders and add new amenities to city buses. The project includes plans to build larger buses to accommodate more passengers, provide bicycle storage, new stations with real-time information and bus-only lanes to reduce traffic-induced delays.
City Council President Syed Abbas proposed blocking the city from spending money on BRT, in response to concerns raised by several alders and community proponents advocating for alternative routes.
Abbas has stated his support for the overall objective of BRT but objects to routes currently planned.
“I’m a big supporter of BRT,” Abbas said. “I want to get it right.”
Jason Ilstrup, president of Downtown Madison Inc., shared similar statements regarding his disapproval of the current planned routes.
“We wholeheartedly agree with the mayor on the importance of BRT,” said Ilstrup. “What we disagree with is a couple blocks of the routing of State Street, and that’s it.”
Rhodes-Conway, an initial proponent of BRT, stated her support for the current proposed routes and offered criticism of Abbas and his colleagues. She raised concerns that the delay could jeopardize the project and impede marginalized communities’ access to public transportation in a press release.
“At best, this amendment creates significant confusion and uncertainty about how to move forward,” said Rhodes-Conway. “At worst, it could delay the project indefinitely and potentially risk it all together. Everyone on the Common Council says they support BRT, but this looks like a clumsy attempt to halt the project, negatively impacting not only the most marginalized in our community who rely on bus service but also the many visitors, shoppers and commuters who want to access the city.”
Alder Charles Myadze, District 18, said that he was unconvinced that the changes to current BRT plans as proposed by Abbas and his colleagues are necessary.
“What I hear from my constituents is that they are not sold on BRT and have concerns about the system redesign,” Myadze said. “Cutting current routes and creating limited routes for BRT will decrease public access to transportation and make it less usable for many people who actually depend on it.”
BRT is projected to cost approximately $166 million, with $117 million of funding coming from the Federal Transit Administration and $48 million from the city’s budget. The city is still awaiting final approval for federal funding.
According to City Transportation Director Tom Lynch, BRT is expected to modernize Madison’s public transportation and meet the needs of the city’s growing population.
“We really can’t keep the status quo,” said Lynch. “Our street network is not able to meet our growth and transportation needs. We need a modern transit system that fosters economic growth, provides better access to all of our residents and keeps pace with peer cities.”