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Drexel interchange project hinges on new deal

Sean Ryan

An Oak Creek strategy to spur development with a new Drexel Avenue highway interchange hinges on a deal to get money from Franklin.

Oak Creek has agreed to contribute $4.4 million to a new $12.9 million interchange at Interstate 94 and Drexel Avenue. The interchange would be built next to an 85-acre property where contractors are demolishing the former Delphi Automotive Systems plant.

A new interchange will make it easier to redevelop that land, said Doug Seymour, Oak Creek director of community development.

“I think we’re really stepping up to the plate,” he said, “and really coming to the table with our share of what we think is really a regional transportation improvement.”

But Oak Creek cannot pay for the project alone and has asked Franklin to contribute $500,000 through a tax-incremental financing district. State law requires local governments pay at least half of the cost of building new highway interchanges, meaning local sources must raise at least $6.43 million for the interchange. On top of Oak Creek’s contribution, Northwestern Mutual, which has a building near the site, has agreed to give $1.6 million to the project.

That leaves Franklin, where Mayor Tom Taylor said his city has not made any commitments to the project.

But he called a Common Council meeting on Wednesday night to consider his proposal to offer $350,000 to get the interchange built.

In order for Oak Creek to get the money, Taylor said, the interchange must be built and Oak Creek must agree to expand Drexel Avenue from two to four lanes within its borders.

“Hopefully they can use those dollars on the Drexel Interchange project,” Taylor said. “But my thought is: If we don’t have a four-lane road heading to the Drexel Interchange, then, my thinking is it won’t be enough to alleviate traffic.”

Taylor said he sees the regional benefit of having the Delphi plant redeveloped. But he said he tied the money to widening Drexel Avenue because the project creates a more direct benefit to Franklin than the proposed interchange.

“For all of us, there is this intangible benefit,” he said of the interchange, “but it cannot be quantified.”

Taylor said he does not know if his offer will be enough to seal the deal for the project, or even if it is legal.

He said he would only agree to give tax-incremental financing money to Oak Creek for the project, and he does not know if state law lets Franklin spend TIF money beyond city borders.

The tax districts let municipalities borrow money for projects and pay off the debt with the increased property taxes generated by the new development.

Seymour said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation asked Oak Creek to make a decision on its local financing by May 1.

Taylor said he would like something to be worked out around the project, and called on the state to contribute more money because the creation of new jobs on the Delphi property and other sites would benefit the entire region.

“I don’t think there should be any local share at all,” he said. “I think the state would be wise just to build the Drexel Interchange.”

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