As city alders took their first look at a proposal for a speedier bus service in Madison, Mayor Paul Soglin said the biggest obstacle remains the state.
A city-commissioned study suggests bus rapid transit, or BRT, would relieve crowding on Metro Transit routes and cut travel times by 20 percent or more. Buses would have technology to extend green lights and, in some places, would have dedicated lanes.
The four corridors would be along East Washington Avenue, Sherman Avenue, University Avenue/Mineral Point Road and South Park Street/Fish Hatchery Road.
The system would cost $138-192 million to build, including purchasing larger and sleeker buses, building roadside stations reminiscent of other cities' light rail lines and constructing a maintenance garage.
Soglin said he's hopeful federal grants will pay for at least half of the start-up costs, but to pay for the rest -- and to run the system -- the state Legislature would need to allow the Madison area to create a regional transit authority to collect and spend tax money.
"The tougher nut is the local costs, and what's happening around the rest of the country is (regional transit authorities) are funded by a small local sales tax, perhaps a quarter of a cent," Soglin said.
Soglin said he would support asking voters to approve such a tax through a referendum.
The study names several challenges for the city, including making significant changes in existing traffic and parking patters, potentially relocating the West and North bus transfer points and extending service to Madison College from East Washington Avenue.
Bus riders said they would be supportive of paying for speedier service.
"Yes, it would be worth it," said Andre Bernard, who said on slow days, it takes more than two hours to get from his east side home to appointments on the west side. "There are days I think I can get to Chicago faster."
Rider Michael Kile-Resmussen said cutting his hour long commute to work would mean he could spend time doing other things.
"I won't have to get up at 6 a.m. to make my shift," he said. "It's just time-consuming, and I wish it would take a lot less time."
Soglin said he was hopeful the system could be running by 2016, although that depends on whether the legislature will allow the regional transit authority, he said.