It’s been years since former Gov. Scott Walker rejected federal funds for high-speed rail to connect Milwaukee to Minneapolis and Chicago, but officials in Wisconsin and Illinois have come up with a creative solution.
It won’t be cheap, though.
Starting this summer, a partnership between neighboring states will build a one-of-a-kind rail infrastructure from the intermodal station to Metra Station in Kenosha that will connect Milwaukee’s streetcar, The Hop, to Chicago’s light rail service. .
Engineers say commuters will be able to make a one-way trip in just seven hours, with just 37 stops between the two stations.
“This is an engineering feat that has never been attempted before,” said Karl Cragg, executive director of the new Interstate Street Car, Inc., a public-private venture between the city of Milwaukee and the State of Illinois.
“Let me be clear,” Cragg said. “It’s not high-speed rail. The Hop’s top speed is around 25 to 30 miles per hour, but with a few tweaks we think we can get it up to around 32 miles per hour, once we leave the city limits.
The project is expected to cost $800 million, and with a return ticket expected to cost $4, feasibility studies suggest taxpayers will fully recoup their expenses in just 238 years. Residents of Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties will see their property tax bill increase by $2,000 per household starting in 2023. The project is expected to be completed by December 2026, officials say.
“Hey, it would have been better, faster, and cheaper — free, actually — if Walker had just taken the federal money, but we have to do something to better connect these two metro areas,” Cragg said.
Currently, The Hop operates five streetcars that travel a 2.1-mile loop, so extending the 40-mile route is no easy task. Each car can carry approximately 150 passengers and will make two convenient trips from Milwaukee per day, at 4 a.m. and 11 p.m. Trips from Chicago will depart at 3:30 a.m. and 10:45 p.m.
Whitefish Bay resident and mother Cathy Cashman is against the expansion.
“I wouldn’t take my Afghan hound on that cart, let alone my family,” Cashman says.
Fortunately, a large swath of land has already been cleared at Foxconn’s undeveloped facilities in Mount Pleasant. The area that is not used for the 500,000 square foot expansion of the Racine Danish Kringle Company is available for tracks, meaning that few easements will be required for The Hop’s new course.
“The only tough part is the so-called ‘last mile,'” said Mary McKitzel, director of expansion routes for Metra. “Upgrading a standard gauge electric streetcar so it can connect to our Metra system will involve a few tricks that we still need to figure out. Luckily, The Hop moves so slowly that even with the ramps and hitches we’ll have to build, it will at least be somewhat safe.
She said, “And it’s not like it’s our money. We took the federal funds. It’s all up to you, Cheeseheads.
“Come on Cubs,” McKitzel added.