- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Madison is looking for alternatives after being denied a federal grant that was to pay for half of a $35 million Metro Transit bus garage on the city’s east side.

The city has no backup financing plan for the proposed 165,000-square-foot-facility, the Wisconsin State Journal (https://bit.ly/1iuyqYB ) reported. Construction was supposed to start next year.

“It really puts us in a bind,” Gary Poulson, chairman of the city’s Parking and Transit Commission, said of the federal decision. “We need to do something.”

Metro Transit is seeing record ridership and operating beyond capacity, spokesman Mick Rusch said.

“Our biggest complaints that we receive are that buses are overcrowded, and we can’t keep them on schedule heading across town due to this volume,” Rusch said. “High ridership and crowded buses are good problems for us to have, but since we didn’t get this grant funding, we will have to re-evaluate where we go from here to address these issues.”

The current, sprawling bus garage is more than 30 years old and originally designed to house 160 buses, Rusch said. Currently, 214 40-foot buses and 17 paratransit vehicles for people with disabilities are stored there.

“Even if we had funding for additional drivers and vehicles to help alleviate these overcrowding issues, we don’t have anywhere to put them,” Rusch said.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin proposed spending $10 million on the new garage in the 2016 budget and $25 million in 2017-18 to complete the facility, which would provide storage for 70 standard buses and space for a bus wash, maintenance, repairs, parts, operations and administration offices on a 5.7-acre site. The plan relies on $17.5 million in city borrowing and the rest from the U.S. Department of Transportation grant.

“The project was contingent on receiving the grant,” city finance director David Schmiedicke said.

The DOT on Thursday announced Madison would not get the grant in the current funding cycle. If there’s another federal grant opportunity, the city would most likely apply, but there is no guarantee if or when this specific grant will be available again, Rusch said.

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, https://www.madison.com/wsj

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