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.”