Transportation director explains where $7.8 million raised from the new wheel tax will go

The wheels are turning on the city of Madison’s future bus rapid transit system.

Now that a $40 wheel tax, or additional vehicle registration fee, has passed for Madison vehicle owners, the city can plan on an additional $7.8 million a year – some of which will go toward BRT.

“We’re kind of at a pinnacle where we can choose how are we going to address transportation needs for the next 30 years,” said Tom Lynch, transportation director. “Transit needs to be a part of that conversation.”

Down the road, the amount of people traveling will go up.

“Dane County is planned to get 85,000 more jobs, Madison 45,000 more jobs, the Isthmus 10,000 more jobs,” Lynch said. “Where are we going to put that traffic?”

The plan is still in its early stages, but the Transportation Policy and Planning board met Monday, discussing what routes downtown could look like. Lynch said BRT routes could overlap current Madison Metro lines.

The plan is to connect East Towne and West Towne with dedicated lanes for the buses, limited stops and frequent service. The BRT system is part of the mayor’s larger MetroForward plan announced in September.

“Our BRT buses, one bus will be taking 80 cars off of East Washington Avenue,” Lynch said.

Lynch estimates the bus rapid transit system’s operating cost will be between $3.5 and $4.5 million annually.

The annual $7.8 million coming in from the wheel tax must go toward transportation-related costs. Lynch said $1.4 million of that will go toward the BRT system and about $2.6 million will go to Madison Metro for things including “increasing costs associated with fuel, drivers’ salaries (and) maintenance concerns.”

That leaves about $3.8 million that can replace general funds used for transportation.

“That frees up some property tax revenue to support existing services like streets, park, police and fire,” Lynch said, adding that BRT can be worth it even for those who aren’t avid bus users.

“Transit is just more efficient, frees up the roadways and will allow us to have the capacity to get people to where they need to go,” he said. “It’s going to be an exciting couple years as we look to improve transportation in Madison.”

With dedicated funds from the wheel tax going toward the BRT system, Lynch said that will make for a more solid application for a federal Small Starts grant next year.

The goal is to start construction work on the project as early as 2022.

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