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I-794 extension plan may be reborn

Sean Ryan
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Extending Interstate 794 farther south would ease traffic congestion in South Milwaukee, but the project may not sit well with residents along the expanded route.

The four-lane corridor stretches from Milwaukee to South Milwaukee, where it ends at College Avenue and funnels traffic into two-lane Pennsylvania Avenue. Traffic backs up at that point, and plans to widen a portion of Pennsylvania to four lanes won’t solve the problem, said Tom Zepecki, South Milwaukee mayor.

“It looks like that portion will be done over the next couple of years,” he said. “The problem is for that extra mile it’ll extend the traffic, but it just keeps bottlenecking farther south.”

The idea of extending the I-794 corridor to the Racine County line has been dormant for years, but Patricia Jursik, Milwaukee County supervisor, last week unveiled a County Board resolution (PDF) that would take the project off the shelf. The resolution asks the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to form a committee to study the project, and for communities along the corridor route to support the project.

“We need to start looking at 794,” she said. “This is long-term. I understand that. But it at least gets communities to start to do the formal (planning) process that needs to be done.”

Oak Creek, which is partnering with South Milwaukee to widen a portion of Pennsylvania, has traffic-congestion problems in its eastern area that an extended I-794 would serve, said Barbara Wesener, executive director of the South Suburban Chamber of Commerce. A new highway could ease the congestion and bring in more out-of-town customers for local businesses, she said.

“As any community that has changed from farmland to more of an urban area over the past 25 years, there is always growing pains, and it is always difficult letting go of those farms,” she said. “There has to be the issue of safety, also, for the citizens. And if the communities are going to really grow, it has to be an easy place to get to.”

Nevertheless, Wesener said, a new highway will not be popular with everyone.

“I’m sure there would be many residents who would prefer not to have another interstate running through the community just because they live there and wouldn’t want that,” she said, “but I think that will always happen when you build something new.”

Without more details about the proposed highway extension’s route and costs, it is hard to say how it would affect Oak Creek, said Doug Seymour, director of community development.

“Anything that improves transportation options for the south shore is a good thing, but you have to weight that against costs and impacts,” he said. “It’s a huge project and it certainly has a lot of impacts in Oak Creek, so we’d be cautions as far as assessing that at this time.”

2 comments

  1. “A new highway could ease the congestion and bring in more out-of-town customers for local businesses, (Wesener) said. …. “There has to be the issue of safety, also, for the citizens. And if the communities are going to really grow, it has to be an easy place to get to.”

    There’s already a highway in place through these communities, and it’s all paid for and without any need to displace residents, farms, business, and tax-producing real estate. It’s called the Union Pacific, and all we have to do is start the KRM Line which will then immediately de-congest the existing roads.

    “Nevertheless, Wesener said, a new highway will not be popular with everyone.”

    That is spot-on correct. I attended the large and vociferous anti-Lake Freeway citizen rallies in Caledonia in 1994 (this is the old Lake Freeway concept revisited, make no mistake about that) and I’ll be at the rallies that are certain to emerge against this unneeded concrete snake.

  2. Adding a non-stop two lane from where 794 turns off at Pennsylvania all the way to Ryan Road would reduce a lot of the traffic that’s spilling over onto the side streets. Have ramped on/off exits at College, Rawson, Drexel, Puetz and Ryan. There’s no need to expand Pennsylvania to 4 lanes. Divert that traffic to 794 and the problem is solved. Why put all that money into expanding Pennsylvania, when you already know the 794 extension is going to happen…and you know it is. JMHO.

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