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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Trolleys: too expensive for Madison?

As ideas for State Street’s renovation arise, it seems the sights and sounds of once-imagined trolleys could be out of the picture. At this point, a trolley system would bear a price tag beyond Madison’s means.

“The concerns [of a trolley system] are many, including the costs,” said Brad Murphy, director of the city department of planning.

Transportation 2020, a committee designed to assess public transportation in Madison, hears all suggestions for improving transit. While considering the trolley system proposal, the committee ran into problems.

“There would be no regional connections to cities outside Madison,” Rob Kennedy of Transportation 2020 said. “What we need is a [complete] transit system. It won’t be just one solution.”

UW-Madison psychology professor John DeLamater is part of Transportation 2020. Although he teaches two human sexuality courses and a social psychology class this semester, DeLamater is a self-proclaimed train and trolley enthusiast and has researched and spoken on behalf of trolley proposals.

The committee is going through alternative analysis and will give transportation improvement recommendations in April. If a trolley system is approved by Transportation 2020, it will need to be approved by the city council as well as the federal transit authority before implementation.

One reason for better public transportation is the city’s growth.

“Everything is growing,” said Dave Trawbridge, the committee’s project administrator.

“The streets are becoming hard to cross for pedestrians.”

“The capacity of our street system continues to be stressed,” he added.

Most estimates say traffic on Madison’s isthmus will more than double by the year 2020. As the population grows, public transportation, like buses, becomes more congested. With overcrowding, more forms of transportation are delayed, creating a ripple effect.

Instead of investing in trolleys, the committee plans on implementing a comprehensive system consisting of multiple improvements.

“It would include buses, rail, and park and rides, amongst others that we would have to work out,” Kennedy said.

One partial solution might prove to be utilizing the existing rail system.

“Trolleys only go about 40 miles per hour, with many stops, while a commuter train can go up to 70 miles per hour with very few stops,” Kennedy said.

The most likely outcome will include a commuter line because of the short range of a light rail system.

“Over time we’ll find [a trolley system] only serves a certain market, while a commuter rail would serve many more,” Trawbridge said.

One of the biggest problems in any new transportation network is lack of funds. City officials say that implementing a trolley system would far exceed the available funds. The committee has to worry about both building and operating costs.

“To build a system of trolleys, we would basically be ripping up the street,” Trawbridge said. “We’re not counting on the state to step up and pay for this.”

Although the state’s “New Start” program would fund up to 50 percent of costs, the city’s expenses would be extremely high. Another possible source of finances may be federal money. But using federal dollars would mean taking it away from competing city programs, and other U.S. funded transit systems nationwide.

“We’d have to get in line with all the other cities who want better transit systems,” Trawbridge said.

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