Develop a plan to spend federal transit funds

Over the next year will "work with key stakeholders to finally develop a plan to invest $36.6 million in federal transit funds designated for Milwaukee County that have for too long sat idle as a result of partisan bickering."


After years of bickering, a plan in place

With an announcement Dec. 19, 2011 that Milwaukee County would buy 136 new buses, County Executive Chris Abele followed through on a campaign promise to develop a plan to spend $36.6 million in federal transit money that had sat idle for 20 years.

The total cost exceeds $52 million, but the largest chunk -- the $36.6 million -- will finally be spent after having been appropriated by Congress in 1991.

The purchases will replace about one-third of the county Transit System's fleet with low-emission buses over the next two years, according to Abele.

The $36.6 million was part of $289 million appropriated by Congress in 1991 for a Milwaukee-area transit project. The $289 million became the centerpiece of years of disputes among city, county, suburban and state officials over how it should be spent.

We rate this a Promise Kept.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Milwaukee County approves 136 new buses,” Dec. 19, 2011

One option is to use long-idle money to replace buses in aging fleet

The City of Milwaukee has been in the news for approving plans to bring a line of streetcars to downtown. The city plans to use nearly $55 million in long-idle federal transit aid toward the $64.6 million project.

The $55 million was left over from transit money the federal government had appropriated in 1991. Milwaukee County still has $36.6 million of those funds to use.

So, with the city's July 2011 approval of the streetcars -- and a campaign promise from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele to develop a plan to spend the $36.6 million in leftover county funds -- we wondered what steps the county has taken.

Abele's promise, prior to being elected in April 2011, was to "work with key stakeholders to finally develop a plan” to spend the $36.6 million, which he said has sat idle because of "partisan bickering."

We asked Abele"s deputy chief of staff, Jeff Bentoff, what progress Abele has made on his promise. He said Abele might use the money to replace buses because, by 2015, one-third of the county"s fleet will be beyond their useful life; or, he would try to use the money toward the bus system"s operating expenses.

Bentoff said Abele is still trying to determine whether the second option is possible, because the money was appropriated for capital needs. He said there is no timetable for deciding how to use the money.

Until a decision is made, or until there is another development, we rate this promise as In the Works.


Chris Abele campaign, "Chris Abele unveils one-year agenda to change Milwaukee County," news release, March 26, 2011

Interview, Milwaukee County executive deputy chief of staff Jeff Bentoff, July 27, 2011