Waukesha County leaders are bristling over a Milwaukee proposal to prevent expanding the Zoo Interchange during its reconstruction.
“It’s very important to realize the city of Milwaukee is not driving this discussion per se,” said state Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield. “The vast majority of the zoo interchange is not in the city of Milwaukee.”
Milwaukee aldermen Michael Murphy and Robert Bauman want the city to oppose widening the interchange from six lanes to eight in each direction. Bauman said state and federal money should not be spent on expanding highways when cities such as Milwaukee cannot keep up with the maintenance needs of existing local streets.
“It’s the height of absurdity to be spending hundreds of millions of capital to expand capacity when local infrastructure is falling apart,” Bauman said.
Yet Kanavas and Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas argue the entire region will suffer if the Zoo Interchange is not expanded.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation next week will hold two hearings for residents to discuss the various reconstruction plans for the interchange. Those options include a $2.31 billion rebuild with eight lanes and safety improvements and a $2.16 billion rebuild with six lanes and safety improvements.
Bauman said the state should rebuild with six lanes and safety improvements and, instead of spending state and federal money on adding lanes, Wisconsin should make local roads a priority.
But Kanavas rejected Bauman’s argument that state, federal and local governments should share the responsibility of maintaining local roads because they serve more than just the residents of a particular city.
“The reason they’re saying it’s a state and national problem is the city of Milwaukee doesn’t have any money,” Kanavas said.
Yet Bauman said if roads are to become a parochial problem, Wauwatosa should pay for the Zoo Interchange and Milwaukee should charge out-of-towners a toll to drive on city streets.
“Until they’re willing to cross that bridge, then it’s a matter of national and state policy,” Bauman said.
Vrakas said he does not want disagreement over a Zoo Interchange widening or the dedication of road money to create a local feud that makes it more difficult to get planning money for the project. He said the highway is not large enough to handle future traffic needs.
“That’s without respect to any kind of transit that may or may not come along in the future,” he said.
Murphy and Bauman’s proposal also asks the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to reserve a transit right-of-way through the interchange and linking to existing railroads to allow for the possibility of running passenger trains from Watertown to Milwaukee, Bauman said.