The gung-ho support in Milwaukee County for extending Interstate 794 south could dead-end at the border with Racine County.
Racine County does not have the rights of way or planning in place for the highway.
“No one’s really approached us about it, unless I’m missing something,” said Thomas Lebak, village administrator for Caledonia, the first community south of the border between the counties.
Interstate 794 originally was planned to extend from the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee south through Racine County. But, as built, the interstate ends in Bay View and turns into a four-lane boulevard.
The Milwaukee County Board has unanimously supported an extension of Interstate 794 as a four-lane interstate to East Ryan Road in Oak Creek. If fully built out beyond the Milwaukee County border, the interstate could stretch from Milwaukee to just east of Caledonia, where it would merge into Highway 31 and continue to the Illinois border, according to South Milwaukee Mayor Tom Zepecki.
Patricia Jursik, Milwaukee County Board supervisor who sponsored the resolution, said it could be five to 10 years before anything is built because the extensive planning includes federal, state and local governments.
She said the five communities in Milwaukee County affected by the interstate plan will hold public hearings, which will be followed by planning by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to put the interstate on the area’s highway map.
“I’m going to take this to the communities that are connected,” Jursik said, “and I am going to let them weigh in on it.”
Among the five communities along the way in Milwaukee County — Milwaukee, St. Francis, Cudahy, South Milwaukee and Oak Creek — there is only one property on the proposed right-of-way, Jursik said. That property, a business in Cudahy, could be preserved by building a bridge for the interstate.
But the Milwaukee County Board’s vote only affects planning within Milwaukee County. Bill McReynolds, Racine County executive, said he is open to extending I-794 into Racine County.
“We were not aware of the fact that Milwaukee County was considering it,” he said. “At this point, it hasn’t been on our radar screen.”
Unlike Milwaukee County, where the four-lane Lake Parkway preserved some of the original planned route for I-794, Racine County has not kept easements for the highway, McReynolds said.
“I’d say it’d take years,” he said of planning for the project. “We don’t know.”
Zepecki said the new highway could parallel the Union Pacific Railroad line, which mostly cuts through farmland in Racine County.
“I think right now is the ideal time,” Zepecki said, “before anything gets built along what would be a natural corridor.”
Lebak said he and his Caledonia engineer have not considered a new highway through Caledonia because the village usually waits for the state to propose an idea. The village’s long-range plan includes a right-of-way for one new state highway — a rerouting of Highway 38.
“That is it,” he said, “as far as our community.”