State Senate budget adds funds for Drexel interchange

The state Senate’s budget includes a $3.75 million grant for a proposed Drexel Avenue interchange on I-94 in Oak Creek.

That provision, the rest of the budget, is still subject to legislative conference committee negotiations and Gov. Jim Doyle’s vetoes.

Usually the state Department of Transportation requires a 50 percent local match for interchange projects. The Drexel interchange is located near the border of Oak Creek and Franklin. Oak Creek officials committed $3.8 million in tax incremental financing (TIF) funds for the interchange, which is about 25 percent of the project’s cost (or half of the required local match). However, Franklin officials declined to pay for the other half of the local costs for the interchange.

The state funds included in the budget would make up for the gap in local funding for the project.

In addition, Oak Creek officials are considering plans to pay for $500,000 in street lighting improvements along South 27th Street, near the proposed Drexel interchange, said Oak Creek Community Development Director Doug Seymour.

A Drexel Avenue interchange connecting to I-94 would improve access to the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. campus in Franklin, the South 27th Street corridor and to the vacant 85-acre former Delphi plant property in Oak Creek. Milwaukee-based WillowTree Development LLC plans to purchase the former Delphi property. City officials want to see the vacant structure on the property torn down and the site redeveloped, predominantly with retail uses.

"If you’re looking for a return on investment, one of the best things you can do is build a freeway interchange," Seymour said.

However, Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman criticized the proposal for additional state funds for the project and said the interchange could harm older areas of the city of Milwaukee.

"The Senate’s budget generosity shouldn’t stop at the Oak Creek doorstep – I’m asking that it be extended to include funding the local share of KRM (Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project), in my opinion a true transportation improvement that will actually benefit a much larger portion of our population," Bauman said.

But Seymour said local government officials should not consider the funding an "either or" issue and he said many Oak Creek officials also support KRM.

"I think we all have an interest in making southern Milwaukee County as attractive as it can be," he said. "Anything that brings us all together and increases access in southern Milwaukee County helps us all."

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