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I-794 extension surprises southern neighbors

Image from The Daily Reporter

(The Daily Reporter image/Rick Benedict)

By Sean Ryan

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.”

6 comments

  1. Why is this “Highway To Nowhere” back on the table? There was a meeting in early 1994 at a school in Caledonia with nearly 1,000 area people protesting the concept and municipal officials in full agreement. It would be prohibitably expensive, eat thousands of acres of valuable farmland, and displace hundreds of residents … and worst of all, it’s unneeded, with WI 31/32 and I-94 already there.

  2. It’s because idiot south side politicians want to create a “need” to preserve the Hoan Bridge rather than doing the smart thing and tearing down that maintenance money-pit and opening all that valuable land for job-creating, tax-revenue-generating development. That’s why Milwaukee County politicians stirred this pot up again.

  3. Racine is a dying community because of its lack of connectivity. So be it. I doubt it will be missed much, but their remaining residents might have something to say about it. Regarding Scott E’s comments; the terms dim and slow come to mind. This proposed surface transportation corridor (much of which is unreliable, underutilized mucky farm surplus) to the county border would create twice as much development value at half the cost of remediating the 20% of the land area around the Jones Island treatment plant that folks like Scott think is so appealing to development interests – the same development interests whose irrational exuberance gave us a 20 year oversupply of downtown condos. Yep, a lot of long term jobs were created there…not. The Port of Milwaukee is an invaluable metropolitan and state asset. Its jobs are real and good paying. It actually makes money and keeps our bulk product imports cheap and exports competitive by offering reasonable transportation rates. The Port and the ancillary industries and services that serve it take up 80% of the subject land area. The Port shall be preserved and must supported for future expansion when economics allow – especially as America returns to production to pay off its mind numbing mountains of debt. Are you going to buy a condo next to Jones Island? Or the salt piles? Don’t be an idiot. This corridor is essential Milwaukee and would be quite helpful to Racine as well. I am often amazed at how much stupidity exists in this community. Products of MPS, no doubt.

  4. “and worst of all, it’s unneeded, with WI 31/32 and I-94 already ”

    Lets see, today it takes 30 minutes to drive the 14 miles from the Racine Zoo to Packard and College Ave in Cudahy. Hwy 32 might have been a highway- in the 1950′s.
    The 2008 traffic counts show that Hwy 38 near Husher has almost as much traffic on it (20,400) as Hwy 20 near I-94 does (23,100). There isnt one four lane road that heads west to I-94 in Northern Racine County, even though the 53402 zip code is the Racine areas most populated zip code. Racine and Kenosha have two four lane highways between them, while there are none between the city of Racine and much larger Milwaukee. It’s time to improve our highway access to Milwaukee. Racine is a large metro area and doesnt have a road system to match. I-94, as it stands today, is 15-20 minutes from the city,

    Brian is 100% right about Racine’s lack of connectivity and the economic consequences of it.

  5. Just fabulous, I will now live trapped between two major freeways. I vote no for this new road. It is NOT needed. I agree with Louis and Scott. We are going to loose beautiful farm land and residential areas.

  6. Great. We’re in the process of buying a nice home in southern Oak Creek. Now, in a fit of construction zealousness, (and what politician never suffers from that condition?) Milw. Supervisor Pat Jursik is gung-ho on expanding 794 probably all the way to the Gulf Coast. Don’t laugh, she’s a determined woman.

    I pray that funding for future expansion includes a nice big fat loop that brushes past the Jursik law offices in Cudahy. Hey, Pat, we’re all in this together! Right?

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