Opposition rises to state’s I-94 plans

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is receiving vociferous opposition to its plans to expand the capacity of the Interstate 94 corridor between the Zoo and the Marquette interchanges in Milwaukee.

The 3.5-mile stretch of I-94 between 16th and 70th streets was built more than 50 years ago, and the DOT says it must be rebuilt for the first time.

The controversial part is a 1.5-mile segment through cemeteries that cannot be disturbed. The DOT’s plans include an option to build double-decker lanes through the cemetery stretch near Miller Park.

Critics, including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, contend that part of the project not only would be damaging to the neighborhood, but would also be a massive waste of money.

“$1.8 million per foot is what we are talking about to go with the double-deck alternative. I don’t know if there’s anybody in the state who thinks $1.8 million per foot makes sense,” Barrett said at a public hearing Wednesday.

Earlier Wednesday on “UPFRONT with Mike Gousha” on WISN-Channel 12, a media partner of BizTimes, state Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said public input will be considered.

“No, we haven’t made a decision. And the impacts on the neighborhoods, the impacts on economic development in the municipalities, those all play a significant part in what the ultimate decision is,” Gottlieb said.

As for critics who say the idea that the freeway needs to be expanded is exaggerated, Gottlieb told Gousha that section is already overwhelmed, even without accounting for projections about future use.

“Even at current levels of traffic, that is a failed highway. I mean there’s too much congestion out there, there’s inability to react to incidents, travel time reliability — we just did a report on that — is very poor on that segment, so we’re not just talking about addressing future needs,” Gottlieb said.

Others standing in opposition to the expansion include: Milwaukee-area state Reps. Evan Goyke, Dan Riemer, Mandela Barnes and Josh Zepnick; State Sen. Tim Carpenter; Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman; and the leaders of several environmental and health advocacy organizations.

“Proposing to spend $1 billion taxpayer dollars on a project that is out of touch with how people are increasingly getting around is bad enough, but not adequately addressing the need for this massive investment is unacceptable. Any reasonable taxpayer should reject both options put forward by WISDOT,” said Bruce Speight, director of WISPIRG, which is proposing an alternative “high quality rapid-transit system” along the I-94 corridor. However, WISPIRG has not specified the mode of that system.  

The public will have another chance to give input on the DOT plans today from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Marquette High School.

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