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Amendment to delay Bus Rapid Transit plans fails in Madison Common Council

Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 10:58 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Madison’s Bus Rapid Transit system will move forward after the Madison Common Council voted down an amendment that proposed alternate routing for the BRT system.

Alders debated the topic for the second day this week on whether funding should be withheld until routes that do not include State Street and the capitol square were approved.

10 members voted in favor of the amendment and 9 voted against it -- however, the Common Council’s Rule of 11 requires a majority vote of the full council, and without one member voting, the 10-9 vote failed.

Five alders, including Council President Syed Abbas, proposed the amendment last week. The amendment language states, “staff will submit a report on modifications to BRT routes and non-BRT routes for Council approval. Funds may be released for route design but only after the Common Council has approved the scope of the route design which is to include alternative routes around the outer ring and off State Street and any other design changes the Council may add to the scope of the design contract including non-BRT route modifications.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, several people spoke in support of the amendment, including people who represent State Street business owners.

“We have not heard proof that current route is what is best for downtown,” said Jason Ilstrup, President of Downtown Madison Inc. “We believe this amendment will slow down the process while still allowing the rest of the work to begin on much of the line throughout the city.”

Like Ilstrup, Tiffany Kelley from the Madison Central Business Improvement District spoke in favor.

“No matter where the stations are placed downtown, everyone will be able to get to State Street,” she said. “It’s a narrow isthmus... There is no need to drive the 60-foot buses down two blocks. There is no difference in accessibility, equity, or economics when putting stops at State Street and Gorham, or Gorham at State Street.”

However, these stakeholders are not opposed to BRT. According to Ilstrup, he and businesses owners are “zealous advocates and believe BRT is important downtown.” But they do worry the proposed route could hinder business and pedestrian traffic as new retail opportunities emerge in the time of COVID. Ilstrup cited the Madison Night Market and the Streatery program.

Madison secured competitive federal funding for BRT, and East-West BRT routing was approved by Council twice already, in March 2020 and again in January 2021. But these proposed changes so late in the game are cause for frustration for Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway. In a statement released Friday she said despite widespread support for the transit system, “this looks like a clumsy attempt to halt the project.”

As of Tuesday night, the Council approved a motion to adopt the Capital Budget -- which would include this amendment -- but are approving the amendments one by one.

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