Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., announced today that Wisconsin received $20 million in grants from the Department of Transportation to improve transit systems as wells as replace and repair buses.

According to a statement from Kohl’s office, Madison will receive $5,160,800 of this grant money to upgrade the Metro transportation system.

The federal government’s decision to make grant funds available stems from a 2010 Federal Transit Administration study that indicated there is almost $80 billion worth of necessary maintenance on mass transit systems nationwide, the statement said, and Kohl put in a request for the grant to the federal DOT.

Once Wisconsin received the funding, the statement said cities pitched local projects. Eight of these city initiatives, including Madison, were selected to receive funding.

Madison Metro spokesperson Mick Rusch said the grant would allow Metro to continue running at its current rate despite the economy while also allowing for improvements to the transit system.

“Before this grant, we saw a decrease in funding,” Rusch said. “This grant allows us to continue replacing our buses at our current rate of about ten a year, or 100 over ten years.”

Madison Metro currently has a schedule of replacement every ten years. The recent economic downturn raised questions concerning whether the company would be able to continue with this schedule, but grant funding alleviates these concerns.

Rusch said the money would also serve to increase Metro’s reliability and efficiency, as adding new buses ensures the system will run smoothly and decrease wait times.

The grant also includes funds to purchase new wireless fare boxes, which Rusch said would allow Metro to better track passengers and fare usage. Data will be automatically downloaded to Metro’s computer systems, allowing the company to easily keep track of passenger traffic.

Alder Scott Resnick, District 8, said the money would also allow the city to update several unsafe or decrepit bus shelters.

Resnick said he feels the grant will lead to a more efficient and user-friendly system overall.

“These improvements will give Madisonians a positive outlook on transportation,” he said. “This will really improve ridership and reliability – it’s great to see.”

Resnick said Madison is an ideal candidate for this funding because of its residents’ heavy reliance on public transportation.

“When you look at our population compared to ridership, our system is one of the most heavily used in the nation,” he said. “Madisonians use Metro more often than residents of many other comparable cities.”

Financially, Resnick said the grant is a “relief” for the city because officials are currently looking for cost-saving mechanisms to put limited funds to the best use.

Rusch said improvements to the system would be made as soon as next year. FTA support will be provided to ensure improvements are implemented quickly and smoothly.