Critics challenge latest DOT plan for Milwaukee East-West freeway reconstruction

By: - November 14, 2022 3:13 pm
Milwaukee East-West Corridor-I-94

Milwaukee’s Interstate 94 East-West corridor. (Ken Lund | Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Wisconsin is sticking with a plan to widen Interstate 94 on the West Side of Milwaukee to eight lanes, prompting renewed criticism from environmental and mass transit advocates.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) announced its new plan Friday for the Milwaukee East-West corridor of I-94 between 16th and 70th streets west of downtown Milwaukee. The plan includes revisions from previous proposals, but retains the eight-lane footprint for the rebuilt highway. 

“The preferred alternative improves safety, replaces aging infrastructure and reduces congestion on the nearly 60-year-old highway,” the department said in its announcement.

The department has scheduled two public hearings in Milwaukee on the plan, Dec. 12 and Dec. 14.

The project includes modernizing interchanges along the corridor and reconfiguring the interchange that takes drivers to the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium. WisDOT said the plan also called for improving bicycle and pedestrian right-of-way across I-94 linking the Hank Aaron State Trail and the Oak Leaf Trail.

Widening the 3.5-mile stretch of the freeway to eight lanes is essential to reducing congestion and improving driver safety and will help reduce traffic volumes on local roadways, particularly east-west roadways near I-94, according to WisDOT. The project has been estimated to cost $1.2 billion and would begin in 2025.

Among other criticisms, opponents of the plan have warned it would displace residents and businesses in neighborhoods bordering the highway. The department said its latest revision includes “less real estate acquisition.”

The Coalition for More Responsible Transportation, made up of environmental, transit and community groups, rejected the latest WisDOT plan. 

The revisions “will perpetuate the negative impacts of highway expansions on Communities of Color, will make it even harder to reach our climate change goals, and will not reverse decades of disinvestment in public transportation, walking and biking infrastructure in Milwaukee,” the coalition said in a statement

In September 2021 the coalition advanced a plan it called “Fix at Six” that would maintain the highway’s current six-lane configuration, increase transit funding and convert an intersecting freeway to a boulevard accessible to bikes and pedestrians. 

A coalition of business, economic development organizations and construction industry unions praised the WisDOT plan. That group, I-94 East-West Econ Connect, cited new estimates from the department that the cost of the eight-line proposal “only varies from a six-lane option by three to six percent.”

But two Milwaukee alders, Michael Murphy and Robert Baumann, said in a joint statement that WisDOT’s proposal reflects “spending priorities that do not align with what people want, especially when traffic volume doesn’t justify the need for additional lanes.” 

State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee), who was elected to the Milwaukee city council last week and will leave the Assembly at the end of this year, also criticized the plan. “At a time when our communities are clamoring for multimodal transit options, pedestrian and bike safety improvements, and a shift away from car supremacy, expanding I-94 to eight lanes moves us in the wrong direction,” Brostoff said Monday.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.