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Inconvenience posed by Zoo Interchange reconstruction concerns locals

People attend a hearing on the proposed reconstruction of Milwaukee’s Zoo Interchange on Tuesday at State Fair Park in West Allis.  Photo by Corey Hengen

People attend a hearing on the proposed reconstruction of Milwaukee’s Zoo Interchange on Tuesday at State Fair Park in West Allis. Photo by Corey Hengen

Sean Ryan
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Although commerce and transportation groups say retooling Milwaukee’s Zoo will make the interchange safer and help businesses in the area, some residents say they’re happy with it as-is.

Richard Knepprath lives on 97th Street immediately east of the interchange between Highway 45 and Greenfield Avenue. He was among residents who attended a public hearing on the interchange Tuesday afternoon at State Fair Park. Knepprath said redoing the interchange will force him to drive farther to get on the freeway when he heads north to go fishing. It also will force him one block farther east on his way home when he gets off the highway.

“For me, it’s perfectly good right now,” he said.

But the design of the Greenfield Avenue intersection creates safety problems on Highway 45 as drivers who get on the freeway try to cut across traffic to head west on Interstate 94 at the Zoo Interchange, said Donna Brown, the interchange’s project director. The redesign will deposit drivers farther south on the highway, giving them more road and more time to access westbound ramps. She said WisDOT rejected the idea of rebuilding the Greenfield ramps as-is because of safety concerns.

“(During) morning and every peak hour of traffic, it’s a problem,” Brown said.

The interchange’s reconstruction options range from $960 million to rebuild the interchange as-is, to $2.31 billion to rebuild it with eight lanes — four in each direction — and safety improvements that would eliminate left-side off ramps and space out the on- and off-ramps.

The interchange is vital to the health of numerous employers on Watertown Plank Road and to the area’s economy, said Peter Beitzel, vice president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. He said the ability to move traffic through the intersection affects the ability to bring people to places such as the Milwaukee County Research Park and Mayfair Mall.

“Our real issue is economic development,” he said, “and how much is going on at Watertown Plank.”

Bietzel said much of the local controversy over the project centers around the two proposals for an interchange at I-94 and 84th Street. One of the proposals would require demolition of houses and a business, while the other wouldn’t. Bietzel said the MMAC is leaving that decision up to local residents and their elected officials.

Robert Knabel, who lives on 76th Street near I-94, said the reconstruction project will ruin his property value if a planned on-ramp is built in front of his house.

“I may be the only person in this state whose home is located on an interstate entrance ramp,” he said, “which is not to my liking.”

Knabel said he recognizes the interchange reconstruction affects the region’s economy and he said he does not expect to prevent construction of the on-ramp. However, he said he wants the state to reimburse him for the loss in his property’s value.

He said: “Can I deny them doing what they want to do? No. At the same time, do I want to be victim? No.”

WisDOT will hold a second public hearing from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Tommy G. Thompson Youth Center at State Fair Park, 640 S. 84th St., West Allis. The department will collect public comments until July 13.

It is scheduled to select a preferred reconstruction plan in September.

One comment

  1. I find it very unlikely that WisDOT will leave any decision up to the local community. The City of Milwaukee has basically indicated their displeasure with the proposed expansion, and well it didn’t appear to matter.

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