Interchange project splits three cities
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is caught in the crossfire of three cities with differing opinions about how the Zoo Interchange should be rebuilt.
Milwaukee aldermen want the zoo rebuilt with six lanes instead of eight. That position clashes with Wauwatosa’s request that WisDOT design the interchange’s northern leg with eight lanes to accommodate future traffic needs.
Wauwatosa is withholding comment on how the other sections of the interchange should be rebuilt, said Bill Kappel, the city’s director of public works.
“We understand that there’s controversy between West Allis and Milwaukee,” he said, “and we want to stay out of that.”
West Allis wants the eastern leg of the interchange rebuilt so cars can exit at 84th Street, said Peter Daniels, West Allis’ principal engineer. Building highway exits to the four-lane 84th Street would shift many freeway drivers away from the exit to 76th Street, which is bordered by houses and has only two lanes, he said.
“It would still require razing a lot of homes in the city of Milwaukee, and they don’t like that one,” Daniels said about West Allis’ proposal. “But it’s mostly traffic concerns.”
Milwaukee covers the eastern edge of the Zoo Interchange around Interstate 94. West Allis surrounds the southern half of the Zoo Interchange around Interstate 894. Wauwatosa controls land north of the interchange and around U.S. Highway 45.
WisDOT is collecting comments about its various reconstruction options, the most expensive of which would cost $2.31 billion, said Donna Brown, WisDOT Zoo Interchange project director. WisDOT will give equal weight to all comments, she said, whether they represent the opinions of people or city governments.
Yet Milwaukee aldermen have told Brown they expect WisDOT will rebuild the interchange however it pleases, regardless of public input.
“I don’t know what the changes will be,” Brown said. “We don’t have a preferred (reconstruction) alternative yet. To say that they are not going to be integral and have an impact on that project I’d say is nonsense.”
The Milwaukee Common Council on July 28 will consider a resolution that confirms the city’s opposition to an eight-lane reconstruction. The resolution would also ask WisDOT to eliminate exits at 84th Street to decrease the number of homes WisDOT would need to acquire and demolish to make room for the project.
“It’s a very contentious issue that will be fully debated on the council floor,” said Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy, a sponsor of the resolution.
Daniels said West Allis has not staked out a position on whether the interchange should have six or eight lanes. City officials are still considering the two options, he said, and will send WisDOT a letter outlining the city’s opinion before the public comment period ends Aug. 10.
Milwaukee, Wauwatosa and West Allis city engineers have met more than 40 times with WisDOT and other government planners, Daniels said. He said it is too soon to guess how the mixed messages from the three communities will influence WisDOT’s final decision.
“The true test of how decisions are made will be made after Aug. 10,” he said.