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Senator tries to cut off I-94 expansion

Local and state officials in southeastern Wisconsin are divided on whether state money is best spent expanding Interstate 94 or rebuilding city streets.
State Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, is circulating a bill to prevent construction of two additional lanes on Interstate 94 between the Mitchell Interchange and the Illinois state border. Carpenter said the $200 million that would be spent to build the lanes should instead go to fixing crumbling local roads and aging pipes.
“You want to keep the construction jobs,” he said. “But it’s a question of: What benefit do you get most out of a dollar spent on construction?”
Carpenter, who started looking for co-sponsors Tuesday, said he will try to insert the proposal into the state budget.
Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, opposes Carpenter’s bill. He argued extra lanes on I-94 should take priority over local road projects because of the volume of cars on the highway and projected increases in interstate traffic.
“It’s reached its time where we need to do (the project),” he said, “and we need to look down the chess board, and we need to realize that we’re building a road that will serve this area for the next 40 years.”
Carpenter said residents in his Senate district drive on local streets more often than they drive on the highway on a daily basis. He said he sees more potholes, hears about more water main breaks, and receives more constituent complaints about the condition of local roads than he hears of the need for more lanes on I-94.
“(Plale) is talking about volume,” Carpenter said. “I’m would talk about usage, that people use these local roads more.”
The mayors of Milwaukee and Kenosha also are divided on the issue.
At a time when state and national transportation budgets are strained, maintaining existing local infrastructure should trump expanding interstates, said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
He said a Milwaukee comptroller’s report identified a backlog of city street projects, yet Wisconsin Department of Transportation studies used projected traffic levels for 2035 when deciding more I-94 lanes are needed. Barrett said the state should take care of the immediate need to repair local streets before building lanes to satisfy future traffic needs.
But Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman said trucks and commuters will need the additional space sooner than 2035, and it would cost more for the state to add lanes as a separate project than it would to build them when reconstructing I-94.
He said there’s always a need for more money for streets, but the I-94 project shouldn’t suffer to satisfy that need, he said.
“We could always upgrade our streets, but to somehow take money away from the I-94 project and do something less than a proper job in the name of fixing local streets is, I think, a misappropriation of funds,” Bosman said. “I just think it’s poor vision.”
Carpenter said the state must be frugal with its money, so it should focus on immediate needs.
“That would be great if we were in prosperous times,” he said, “but we are not in prosperous times right now.”

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