Evers says he wants I-94 East-West project to move forward

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Gov. Tony Evers announced today that he plans to seek federal government approval to move forward with the stalled I-94 East-West freeway construction project.

The project would rebuild a 3.5-mile stretch of I-94 in Milwaukee between 16th and 70th streets. That segment of I-94 fits between the downtown Marquette Interchange and the Zoo Interchange. The Marquette Interchange was rebuilt between 2004-08 at a cost of $810 million. The Zoo Interchange was rebuilt from 2014-18 (although completion of the north leg was delayed to 2022) at a cost of $1.7 billion.

Map of the I-94 East West corridor project area.

The portion of I-94 between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges was built in the 1960s and carries between 140,000 and 160,000 vehicles a day. State officials have planned the I-94 East-West project for years to upgrade the freeway between the interchanges, but the $1 billion project was halted by Gov. Scott Walker as he and Republican legislators differed on how to address a $1 billion shortfall in the state’s transportation fund.

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Several business groups have pushed for the I-94 East-West project saying the freeway is a vital economic corridor for the region.

“MMAC strongly supports this significant upgrade to the East-West segment of the I-94 corridor,” said Steve Bass, senior vice president of government affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “This is one of the busiest and most commercially significant stretches of interstate in Wisconsin. By expanding capacity and increasing safety, we will ensure that this vital artery for commerce and tourism remains healthy for generations to come.”

“The East-West corridor project plays an important role in the restart our of regional economy and we are enthusiastic about the re-engagement by the Wisconsin DOT,” said Suzanne Kelley, president and CEO of the Waukesha County Business Alliance. “Access to a robust transportation system is consistently one of the top issues we hear from businesses – both from those already doing business here and those looking to relocate or expand in the region. Because so much of our state’s commerce flows through the Marquette and Zoo Interchanges and the stretch of freeway between, now more than ever, we believe this is a vital economic development issue for our region and the state as a whole.”

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In 2017, a trio of Milwaukee groups filed a lawsuit challenging the planning involved in the I-94 East-West project, arguing state and federal officials failed to incorporate public transportation elements and the potential impact on racial segregation and the environment. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Wisconsin by the NAACP Milwaukee branch, the Sierra Club John Muir Chapter and Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope.

Evers provided few details today about the I-94 East-West project and spokespersons for his office and the state Department of Transportation could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Investing in our infrastructure is critically important for our economy,” Evers said. “Moving forward on the I-94 East-West corridor project will mean between 6,000 and 10,000 good jobs and will ultimately save lives, reduce travel times, and help businesses across our state. We know that deferring road maintenance could cost us more down the road and put safety at risk, so getting to work on this project is good common sense.”

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The design of the I-94 East-West project has raised concerns about how additional freeway lanes would impact the Story Hill neighborhood and grave sites at cemeteries near Miller Park.

In his announcement, Evers said that WisDOT would reassess design alternatives for the I-94 East-West project “to confirm the preferred option for the segment that would increase safety and improve travel times while preserving local historic grave sites and maintaining the current number of interchanges. In addition to sparing the historic grave sites in (Milwaukee’s) Story Hill neighborhood and maintaining the current number and location of interchanges, the preferred option will not incorporate the ‘double-decker’ design that drew community opposition when the project was last studied in 2015.”

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