Amid debate over the Bus Rapid Transit system in Madison, the city’s Metro Transit held a public meeting Wednesday night to discuss its plan that has drawn ire from State Street businesses.

The City of Madison is working to implement bus rapid transit, or BRT, as part of an effort to improve the current transit system and reduce travel times.

The proposed BRT includes a transport corridor operating east to west through Madison’s downtown and the University of Wisconsin campus.​​​​​​​

“When you look at East Washington or University Avenue, it’s clear we need a different way of serving the transportation needs of our economy, for our residents and for our communities,” City of Madison’s director of transportation Tom Lynch said at Wednesday’s meeting.

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The BRT will also improve service on the North South Line, according to general manager at Metro Transit Justin Sternberg.

“This will improve access in the densest areas of people of color throughout the city,” Sternberg said.

Sternberg also stated the weekday bus service will be every 15 minutes, and in in some sections, five minutes. Weekend service will mostly be every 15 minutes at BRT stops.

The goal is that people will not have to worry about checking the schedules because they can assume a bus is going to arrive soon, Sternberg said.

“This is not a band-aid to get us through the next five years,”  Lynch said. “This is building a framework so that we can be a city that’s equitable and fosters our economy into the future.”

Currently, the design drawings are 30% completed. To put that into context, once the design drawings reach 100% completion, the group will have fully fleshed out engineering designs, Transit Planner Mike Cechvala said.

The Federal Transit Administration recommended Metro Transit for funding, which would allow Metro Transit to move toward a grant agreement next summer, according to Sternberg. The early construction work will start at the end of 2022, with the bulk of expected construction occurring in 2023 through spring 2024.

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“Madison is continuing to make progress towards our bus rapid transit system, which will be a sustainable public form of transit that connects our region with efficiency and ease that we’ve never seen before on transit,” Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said. “We are closer than ever to implementation of rapid transit here in Madison.”

The city’s panelists emphasized the need for BRT to boost the economy, especially given the effects the pandemic has had on it.

Some attendees questioned the reasoning and potential effects of BRT on State Street, with many noting the buses would need to be rerouted regularly for events such as the farmer’s market or as a result of football games. 

Madison’s Central Business Improvement District’s Executive Director Tiffany Kenny asked how the downtown route will be a fixed route — a main feature of BRT — if it’s being rerouted so often.

Cechvala explained when Capitol Square or State Street is closed for events, buses will detour using the capital loop.

“We would like to minimize or reduce detours. We’re also committed to reducing travel times and so the routing that was chosen and adopted is fundamentally about reducing or at least maintaining the travel times through the downtown area,” Cechvala said.