Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has long promoted streetcars as a way to spur new development, particularly along East Washington Avenue and the south end of Park Street. But last week a consultant recommended the city build its first streetcar line downtown - near the already well-developed Capitol Square, down State Street and up Park Street to Meriter Hospital (see map), for $58 million.
"You have to start someplace," says Cieslewicz. "It makes sense to start with the central part of the system."
But exactly which parcels of land would get developed because of a downtown streetcar route?
"I just can't say right off the top of my head," says Cieslewicz. Later, a city staffer calls back with examples: the city parking garage behind the Madison Municipal Building and some small "underutilized" parcels behind the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
Meanwhile, the regional committee exploring commuter rail is considering two alternative routes, both of which go along East Washington Avenue - one of the areas Cieslewicz wants to revitalize with passenger rail. Both routes would start in downtown Middleton, go past the UW-Madison and Monona Terrace, then split at Baldwin Street. One route would continue to the airport, while the other would go to Sun Prairie.
The committee, Transport 2020, is holding a hearing on Thursday, May 3, at Monona Terrace, 5 p.m., to discuss which option the public likes better.
But Cieslewicz doubts either commuter route would create enough new development: "I don't know whether the line going down East Washington would accomplish what we want. And they're certainly not going down Park Street."
Transport 2020's consultants, however, estimate that the commuter rail line would add 17,000 new office jobs and 2,950 more retail jobs along the route.
Cieslewicz has asked Transport 2020 to delay its request for federal funding until a streetcar proposal is ready. But Dane County Board Chair Scott McDonell says this would hurt the region's chances for federal funding: "If we add streetcars to our proposal, it will fail."
The federal government could pay half the cost of building commuter rail, which ranges from $196 million to $285 million depending on the route. McDonell says a regional transit authority, with its own taxing ability, could cover the rest of the capital costs and all of the operating costs.
A showdown appears imminent. Cieslewicz says the city of Madison will not contribute a dime to commuter rail; he notes that the County Board is considering a resolution to prohibit county funding for streetcars.
McDonell counters that it's not up to Cieslewicz. "The mayor and the city of Madison are not synonymous," he says. "There is a city council."