[caption id="attachment_334185" align="alignright" width="397"] An aerial view of the proposed Foxconn site. The company sought an autonomous vehicle lane in the Interstate 94 expansion, according to MMAC president Tim Sheehy. Credit: Curtis Waltz - www.aerialscapes.com.[/caption]
Foxconn Technology Group asked for an autonomous vehicle lane to be included in the expansion of Interstate 94 North-South in Racine County, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president Tim Sheehy said during a Greater Milwaukee Committee meeting on Monday.
The special session legislation setting up Foxconn's $3 billion in tax credits and breaks also authorized $252.4 million in borrowing to complete the expansion of I-94 in Racine County, but that money cannot be spent without an award of federal funding for the project. Mount Pleasant and state officials have also worked together to have the Wisconsin Department of Transportation handle local road construction.
Sheehy said the state and local officials working with the company thought they were looking ahead by having money to complete the expansion and plans for the state to handle local road construction.
“We put this all in front of Foxconn and we were all dumbstruck when they looked at us and said, ‘So, where’s the autonomous vehicle lane,’” Sheehy told the meeting. “We’re thinking about two years down the road. They’re thinking about 20 years down the road.”
Sheehy said an application had been submitted to the federal government to determine what it would take to have an autonomous vehicle lane as part of the project.
Michael Pyritz, a Wisconsin Department of Transportation spokesman, confirmed the lane was part of the agency’s grant request for the freeway project, but added it is just one of a number of complicated pieces in the massive project.
“It’s still too early to say one way or the other,” Pyritz said. “There’s any number of different ways that this could play out.”
After the GMC meeting, Sheehy said the autonomous vehicle lane could have applications for getting Foxconn products to and from the airport and in getting workers to and from the campus.
Transportation was among the major topics during the GMC meeting, which featured a presentation by Sheehy and panel discussion on Foxconn. Panelists included Earl Buford, Employ Milwaukee chief executive officer; Rob Henken, Public Policy Forum president; Vicki Martin, Milwaukee Area Technical College president; and Paul Decker, Waukesha County board chair.
Decker said he would be concerned the autonomous vehicle lane would be built only on I-94 North-South and not extended to I-894 or I-94 West.
“We’ve got to think a little bit bigger, broader and better when it comes to transportation as a whole,” Decker said.
He said making the region more connected would require a multi-modal approach that includes busses, trains, autonomous vehicles and other technology like Uber and Lyft.
“Then we have to have an honest conversation, which some of us have tried to do for many years, with our state legislators and talk about transportation,” Decker said.
Henken said transit is “the foremost example of a public policy issue” in which a regional approach makes sense because it allows for a more effective system.
“The opportunities are limitless, but this isn’t going to work unless we do see a new attitude in terms of the way we look at providing these services,” Henken said. “That new attitude has to be that we're working together, we're not sticking in our fiefdoms and we're considering how to pay for these things on a regional level as opposed to a municipal level.”