August 29. 2014 10:08AM

Public Service Commission releases streetcar decision

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin has ruled that utilities companies and their ratepayers cannot be held responsible for the costs of utilities relocation for the Milwaukee streetcar project.

The PSC’s final decision, released this morning, says the City of Milwaukee cannot pass the costs of underground utility relocation on to the following utility companies involved in the dispute: Wisconsin Electric Power Co., Wisconsin Gas LLC, American Transmission Co. LLC, Wisconsin Bell Inc., Time Warner Cable LLC, the Wisconsin Cable Communications Association, TW Telecom of Wisconsin l.p., Paetec Communications Inc., McLeodUSA Telecommunications Services LLC or Norlight Telecommunications Inc.

The 2.1-mile streetcar line is expected to cost about $64.6 million, before utilities relocation costs. About $54.9 million in federal grant funds and $9.7 million in TIF district funds would cover the cost.

Some underground utility lines and utility facilities may need to be reinforced or relocated along the streetcar line. The utility companies involved estimated it would cost more than $83 million to move the utilities along the original route.

“The commission concludes that there is no independent basis upon which the city can require the utilities relocate their facilities other than through a municipal regulation as that term is broadly defined,” the decision says. “Any municipal action that would require the (utilities) to pay any part of the relocation costs to accommodate the Streetcar Project is unreasonable.”

But the city recently received federal approval to shift the route, which runs from the Intermodal Station to the lower East Side, to Broadway between St. Paul Avenue and Wells Street to reduce utility relocation costs by $10 million.

And Commissioner Eric Callisto dissented from the final decision because he feels the PSC should not closed its case after the passage of Wisconsin Act 20 in 2013, which essentially made the same decision about utility cost allocation.

In his dissent, he says: “The commission’s action in this proceeding is unnecessary and superfluous to what the Legislature and governor have already accomplished through 2013 Wisconsin Act 20. That law expressly provides that municipal regulations which require utilities to pay the relocation costs associated with urban rail transit projects are unreasonable and voice, by statute.”