GOP lawmakers working to revive I-94 east-west corridor project

Proposal calls for $25 million in DOT funding to keep project on track

Sen. Alberta Darling, flanked by Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, Steve Baas of MMAC, Jeff Hoffman of Waukesha County Business Alliance, and Tracy Johnson of CARW.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 10:57 am

Three Republican state lawmakers from southeastern Wisconsin unveiled a proposal today aimed at moving forward the stalled Interstate 94 east-west corridor reconstruction project.

Sen. Alberta Darling, flanked by Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, Steve Baas of MMAC, Jeff Hoffman of Waukesha County Business Alliance, and Tracy Johnson of CARW.

The project would rebuild a 3.5-mile stretch of the freeway between 16th and 70th streets in Milwaukee, a segment of freeway that was originally built in the 1960s. Construction on the project had been progressing toward a 2020-21 start, but was halted when funding for the project was cut from Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-19 budget.

Now, Republican legislators are putting forth a bill that would require the state Department of Transportation to set aside $25 million for the project, using money that the agency finds through efficiencies. That money would cover the cost of continuing design and planning work to keep the project on schedule.

The source of funding for the project itself has not been determined.

State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin; Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield; and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, announced the proposal Thursday morning, joined by representatives from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin and Waukesha County Business Alliance.

The east-west corridor is a main artery for commerce in the state of Wisconsin and carries between 140,000 and 160,000 vehicles per day – 30,000 more than its 1950s-era design intended, according to CARW.

Proponents of the project say upgrading that stretch of highway is a natural next step, following the completion of the Marquette and Zoo interchange projects, which have totaled about $2.5 billion.

“This isn’t just a typical road construction project,” Sanfelippo said. “This is an economic development project.”

Darling said the state will have wasted the money it’s already invested in environmental impact studies if the project doesn’t come to fruition.

“If we sit back and don’t go forward, we could lose the $22 million of work we’ve already done,” she said.

Proponents also noted that, if the reconstruction project doesn’t happen, the deteriorating corridor will have to be resurfaced to remain operational, a process that is expected to take two years and require lane closures to complete.

“Motorists are going to be facing orange barrels and construction delays within the next three to four years on that stretch,” said Steve Baas, senior vice president of governmental affairs for MMAC. “The question is: what are they going to get for their money and what are they going to get for their inconvenience?”

After state lawmakers decided not to move forward with the project last fall, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation requested the Federal Highway Administration to rescind the project’s record of decision. Sanfelippo said the state would re-approach the federal agency to resume the project.

“That should be able to happen without a problem, but the longer we wait the more in question that becomes,” he said.

Sanfelippo and Darling did not name specific DOT programs or services that would be scaled back to produce $25 million for the project, saying agency leaders would be able to trim from the DOT budget as they see fit.

Lawmakers would have to move swiftly to pass legislation before the end of legislative session in March, Darling said.

Asked about Walker’s support for reviving the project, Sanfelippo redirected the question to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Barrett has advocated for only rebuilding the current east-west corridor in its existing footprint, but has opposed expanding it.

“The more important question is, is Mayor Barrett going to come around and support this project this time?” Sanfelippo said.

Both he and Darling said they had not discussed the latest proposal with Barrett.

Barrett’s office did not respond to request for comment Thursday.

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