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Chairman Lipscomb proposes new bus route linking workers in Milwaukee, Racine to Foxconn

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Theo Lipscomb

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb announced Wednesday, March 7 a proposal for a new bus route linking workers in Milwaukee and Racine to the new Foxconn complex in Mount Pleasant.

Lipscomb said he would like to work with Racine County and the State of Wisconsin to establish the new route. The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) conducted an analysis of the proposed route at Lipscomb's request.

The report comes with a wide range of possible annual costs, from $144,000 on the low end (low cost, high ridership) for four round trips to $1.59 million at the high end (high cost, low ridership) for 12 round trips. The premise for the analysis was that adult fares would cost $4. Lipscomb said leaders would eventually have to decide whether the Milwaukee County Transit System would run the line or if a private contractor would oversee the route.

"We're putting on the table today a concrete proposal," said Lipscomb. "We need to make real progress on making sure we can get our fair share of those jobs for our citizens."

Lipscomb shared the SEWRPC report and representatives from the commission discussed their analysis with members of the board's transportation committee. The report shows a route connecting downtown Milwaukee and downtown Racine to the Foxconn plant, stopping at the College Ave. and Holt Ave. park-and-ride lots along the way.

The SEWRPC report estimates more than 1,300 workers could take advantage of the bus service each day.

The commission said its understanding is Foxconn will operate on two 12-hour shifts, which would ensure full buses running each way.

Kevin Muhs

"When one shift is beginning, so you're delivering a bus full of people to the plant before that shift begins. There's another shift ending, so theoretically there would be a number of people leaving work," said SEWRPC Deputy Director Kevin Muhs.

As for funding the new route, Lipscomb suggested using about $4.5 million left from the sale of the former Midwest Airlines hangar at Mitchell Airport.

Due to a 2003 credit deal with the bankrupt airline, Milwaukee County, Racine County and the state all have a stake in that money.

Former Midwest Airlines hangar at Mitchell Airport

"Instead of fighting over how we divvy that money up between the parties, we could work together to come up with a solution," said Lipscomb.

M.T. Boyle, the chief of staff for Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, said:

“We are aware of the Milwaukee County Board Chairman’s proposal through the media reports. Neither Chairman Lipscomb nor any members of the Milwaukee County Board have contacted the County Executive’s office regarding this proposal.  I can’t speak for the Racine County Board Chairman Russell Clark or other members of our County Board.

We have been in discussions with the State, RCEDC, and Milwaukee County to determine the legal parameters and allocation of proceeds from the recent sale of airport hangars at General Mitchell International Airport. Racine County partnered with Milwaukee County and the State nearly 15 years ago by accepting and transferring funds from a community development block grant for the benefit of Midwest Express Holdings.  The proper allocation of proceeds from the sale and potential restrictions on the funds remain the subject of ongoing discussions.  Although we are open to exploring potential partnership opportunities with Milwaukee County as to use of these funds, including workforce development, training, transportation, and other Foxconn-related programs, further clarification is needed.  We will be working closely with all interested parties, including, the Racine County Board, the State, and the Milwaukee County Executive and County Board, as discussions move forward.”

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he believes federal regulations prevent the use of that hangar money for Foxconn transit:

“While I appreciate that the Chairman shares my goal of helping people get to work, at first look, it does not appear the specifics in his proposal are legally allowed based on federal regulations of how the money from the hanger sale can be used.”

Steve Michels, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Administration says the DOA will work with both counties to "ensure the use of funds complies with federal guidelines and benefits the community."

Foxconn is in line to receive as much as $4.1 billion in state and local subsidies for its plan to build a 1,200-acre manufacturing campus in Mount Pleasant. The agreement says the plant could create as many as 13,000 jobs.

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