The Sun Prairie City Council on March 2 voted to begin negotiations with Madison Metro over a possible purchase of a bus recharging station and to become a stop on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for Madison Metro.
The move could cost the City of Sun Prairie at least $100,000 when the BRT begins service in 2024 because of a commitment to contribute 20% of both the cost of buses and the recharging station. That doesn’t include the cost of constructing a restroom facility for passengers and bike riders to use that is part of the 2023 Capital Improvement Plan that is expected to be paid for by Park Fund dollars.
City Planner Philip Gritzmacher Jr. said in his report that Metro Transit recently contacted city staff with a proposal to replace Sun Prairie’s Route 23 with an extension of the BRT System, likely beginning in 2024 when Metro’s BRT system is launched.
Under the proposal, BRT buses would change their marquees to Route 23 (the Sun Prairie route) at East Towne Mall and proceed to the Sun Prairie Park and Ride via High Crossing Boulevard and Highway 151.
Because BRT service is being provided at 15 minute frequencies, Metro proposes running every other bus to Sun Prairie, with the remaining buses replacing Route 26 and serving the American Center area.
The proposal would increase service at the Park and Ride from peak-period-only service to all-day service 7 days per week.
Gritzmacher said stops would likely be made at the Park and Ride every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and stop every hour from 8 p.m. to midnight every day of the year. The existing circulator service would be discontinued under this proposal.
Metro estimates that this service change could be implemented within +/- 10% of the existing budget for the express bus service as a result of city only paying for service between East Towne Mall and the Park and Ride.
Because the existing circulator would be discontinued under this proposal, the city would need to explore the creation of a local route or routes to supplement lost service on the existing circulator and/or to serve the balance of the city. The cost of implementing a local transit service could, in turn, be offset by the elimination of the shared-ride taxi, which would become a redundant service.
Gritzmacher said Metro will be using electric buses for its BRT system and will be charging the buses at end-of-line stops. In order to bring the service to Sun Prairie, Metro is requesting Sun Prairie install an electric charging system, install a year-round bathroom facility at the Park and Ride, and participates in procurement of the three additional electric buses that would be needed to serve the extended BRT route. Metro estimated a charging station would cost approximately $400,000 for procurement and installation. City staff believes that this may be eligible for 80/20 federal transit funding, which would reduce the local share cost to approximately $80,000. A bathroom facility is already in the Capital Improvement Plan for 2025 and would be paid for with Park Improvement funds to enable use of the Park and Ride as a trailhead for surrounding bicycle trails.
This facility would need to be advanced to 2023 to accommodate this request. Finally, each electric bus would cost approximately $1.2 million. Metro has not indicated the level of participation they would expect from the city for this procurement nor whether or not this would be used to offset the operational costs of service. Staff believes that this request would be eligible for 80/20 federal funding, similar to the charging station.
Gritzmacher requested direction on whether or not the city should pursue the arrangement with Metro Transit.
If an agreement is pursued, additional details would come in short order, along with memorandums of understanding to finalize the agreement.
Gritzmacher said he anticipated that the agreements would begin to be formulated as early as summer of this year. The Transit Commission considered this request at its Feb. 18 meeting and unanimously endorsed entering into negotiations with Metro Transit to determine of potential costs associated with the replacement of the existing Route 23 with an extension of Bus Rapid Transit, the creation of a potential local circulator route(s), and any associated capital costs.
Some alders expressed reservation. District 1 Alder Steve Stocker was the first to express his doubts. Reading through the resolution, Stocker said he had great expectations.
“But then again, I see too many ifs,” Stocker said, adding that there are too many questions about what it could cost the city. “I just feel it’s too early.”
Stocker said the city doesn’t know the full cost. He said he is still reeling from Metro coming back and charging the city more two years ago.
“I’m still not at a trusting level,” Stocker said, “for what they could be charging us.”
Mayor Paul Esser pointed out the resolution only directs staff to begin negotiations.
Transit Commission Chair Al Guyant, who is leaving the council after the April 6 election, expanded on Stocker’s concerns. “This is true negotiations,” Guyant said, wondering aloud if Sun Prairie could get the federal transportation money.
He said there is no guarantee the deal will happen, but if there is, the city council will get it back for final review and approval. “This is a really big capitol IF,” Guyant said.
“Are we pretty confident BRT is going to occur in Madison?” asked District 2 Alder Bob Jokisch. He also asked that if BRT comes along, whether or not Sun Prairie can stay where it’s at.
Gritzmacher said he knows Madison BRT is a go, but the real question is when it will begin. As for Sun Prairie service, he said there is no indication it would discontinue, but that may not necessarily be the outcome. He said Route 23 will still be in place.
District 2 Alder Theresa Stevens also expressed her misgivings. She said she wants signage along 151 for the Park and Ride.
“I think it should have happened already,” Stevens said, adding the city spent $250,000 already on the Park and Ride without signage. She said she also wants signage on Grand Avenue. Stevens said unless city residents are watching council meetings, they can’t find the Park and Ride. “If you’re from out of town,” Stevens said, “there’s no way you would know we even have one.”
Despite his pledge he would vote no, Stocker joined other alders in voting unanimously to allow city staff to negotiate with Metro.
After hours, large vehicle parking prohibited
Acting on a recommendation from Gritzmacher, the council approved an ordinance amendment to prohibit parking at the Park and Ride from 11 p.m.-5 a.m., and prohibit certain kinds of vehicles from parking there.
Gritzmacher wrote in his report that the Sun Prairie Park and Ride is currently the only municipal parking lot without formal parking restrictions. The lot has seen an increase in use for long-term storage of vehicles and use of the lot for RV/Camper parking.
“With these uses, the city has seen an uptick in the amount of littering and concerns by residents and alders about potential safety issues that these uses might pose,” Gritzmacher wrote in the report.
The Transit Commission and Public Works Committee have considered changes to parking policies and each unanimously recommended amending the ordinance so no campers, recreational vehicles, trailers, boats, or oversized vehicles 22 feet or longer are allowed within the lot at any time, as well as the parking prohibition for all vehicles from 11 p.m.-5 a.m.
Alders also unanimously approved the ordinance amendment.