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Fix At Six: Report Spells Out Alternatives For I-94 East-West Freeway Reconstruction In Milwaukee

Chuck Quirmbach
Eastbound traffic starts to slow on I-94 Tuesday at 6:24 p.m., at about 66th St. and the freeway.

Diverse groups are asking the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) to consider more alternatives to driving cars, as the DOT takes a closer look at the proposed rebuilding of about four miles of the I-94 East-West Freeway in Milwaukee.

Earlier this year, the state transportation department agreed to make a supplemental environmental impact statement for any construction plans on I-94 between about 16th Street and 70th Street. Business groups and Republican legislators have been pushing for years to expand the freeway to reduce congestion and accidents.

During rush hours or before Brewers games, it can be a busy stretch. It also can be noisy, especially for the nearby Story Hill neighborhood just north of I-94.

Some of the rebuild proposals talk of narrowing the traffic lanes and changing the configuration from three lanes each way to four, for a total of eight lanes.

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Gregg May, of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, discusses the Fix At Six report during a Tuesday news conference.

A coalition of environmental, legal and religious groups has released a report called Fix At Six, which argues that the I-94 East-West Freeway can be safely modernized with its current lanes.

Gregg May of the group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin said the report also recommends other changes in the $1.1 billion project. "It looks to add an additional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route along National and Greenfield Avenues, as well as a north-south route along 27th Street, and it promotes walking and biking infrastructure particularly along the Stadium Freeway," May told news reporters Tuesday.

The Stadium Freeway, also called State Highway 175, runs mainly from American Family Field north to Lisbon Avenue.

May said some people who live near that road want significant changes. "From what we've heard, we'd like to see that project may be turned into a boulevard system, no longer operating as a freeway. That includes more walking, biking and transit options, that's friendly to the surrounding neighborhood, but also supplies better access and hopefully safer infrastructure," May said.

Chuck Quirmbach
Traffic on Stadium Freeway Tuesday evening, north of Wells St.

Adele Nance with Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied For Hope (MICAH) wants more of the billion dollars budget to be spent on buses on the city's north side and on fixing local streets.

"We've got roads with holes in them. We got roads that are cracking. Every time you go over a bump — the city's not going to pay for our and our family's cars getting fixed," Nance said.

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Adele Nance, of MICAH, during Tuesday's news conference.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) responded with a written statement that said the focus on commuting alternatives is only part of the story. The business group said it also wants people to consider "the significant role the I-94 corridor plays in supporting the region's economy."

The MMAC argues that existing local companies looking to expand here — or firms looking to relocate to the area — look closely at how efficiently they can transport goods. The MMAC said it sees the I-94 expansion "as an investment in enhancing that capacity."

But again, others want to alter the East-West Freeway plan. Cheryl Nenn of Milwaukee Riverkeeper said that the currently proposed project would increase runoff to the Menomonee River and other waterways. She said it's a bad idea in a time of climate change and possibly more rainfall.

"Climate change demands smarter development that increases resiliency, rather than increasing flood risk, sewer overflows, and pollution of our air and waters," Nenn said.

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Dr. Victoria Gillet, speaks during Tuesday's news briefing about I-94.

Milwaukee practitioner Dr. Victoria Gillet said the air pollution along freeways already makes her patients, many of them low-income, ill.

"I-94 expansion does nothing to help my patients. The Fix At Six transit rehab proposal does. And that's what we deserve for health in Milwaukee," Dr. Gillet said.

The state transportation department issued a statement saying it "welcomes all suggestions and additional input for I-94 East-West." In addition, the DOT said its design team anticipates holding a Public Involvement Meeting in late fall or early winter "to share the information developed during the work on the supplemental environmental impact statement."

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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