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Editorial: Zoo Interchange project needs to stay in fast lane

Traffic moves through the intersection of Bluemound Road and Highway 100 in Wauwatosa on Tuesday. The busiest intersection in the state will be closed until the end of the month as part of improvements ahead of the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project.Staff photo by Kevin Harnack

Traffic moves through the intersection of Bluemound Road and Highway 100 in Wauwatosa on Tuesday. The second busiest intersection in the state will be closed until the end of the month as part of improvements ahead of the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project.
(Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Everything about the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project is big.

Big project (about 9 miles of freeway will be redone), big traffic (the busiest in the state), big cost ($1.7 billion), big congestion (arterial projects already are underway), and a big jobs-producer, which is the result of the big timeline (work is expected to last until 2018).

And a potential big headache.

A lawsuit filed in August 2012 in the U.S. District Court in Madison alleges state and federal transportation officials are discriminating against urban minorities by not including public transit improvements in the project. It also argues the project will “have the likely effect of exacerbating regional racial segregation, and it will have adverse environmental effects on air quality and water resources,” according to court documents.

The lawsuit was brought by the Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope and the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin. The groups, which sued the state’s Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, argue the project plan did not include public transportation options, would impair air quality, and would contribute to suburban sprawl. They want an injunction that would stop work on the project until the required analysis is completed.

In May, Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that the plaintiffs “have a likelihood of success on the merits and that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction,” according to court documents. Adelman, in his decision, also wrote that issuing an injunction to halt planning on the project “could delay the project and increase its cost.”

The lawsuit is in court-supervised mediation. It’s not delaying the project … yet.

The lawsuit sheds light on important social and economic factors, but slowing down desperately needed repairs to a crumbling interchange is an irresponsible use of the legal system. It threatens to halt progress on an interchange that was built in 1963 and is an antique.

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It’s not equipped to handle the 355,000 vehicles that use it daily. The project also is providing good-paying jobs for people across the region, including those from the inner city.

When completed, it will provide easier access for people going to and from Milwaukee for work and will boost the state’s commerce and decrease pollution by relieving traffic congestion.

The issue the lawsuit raises with local transit opportunities is just that: a local issue. The state’s Department of Transportation should be held accountable for ensuring people have adequate freeways on which to travel, not public transit options. Local government, such as that in Milwaukee, should be responsible for providing a sound public transit system.

As for the environmental aspects of the lawsuit, WisDOT should be concerned with the effects massive road projects have on pollution and air quality. But it used the same process for the Zoo project as it did for the Marquette Interchange. The state met federal environmental standards and received federal approval for the project.

It’s time to move Wisconsin forward and eliminate congestion in the courts. The Zoo Interchange project is a big win for the state.

2 comments

  1. “Local government, such as that in Milwaukee, should be responsible for providing a sound public transit system.” Yes they should, but when the state meddles in the ability of local governments to fund transit systems and diverts earmarked transit money to highways, then the state has taken on the responsibility to help address the issue. It should also be noted that the SEWRPC is disproportionately represented by suburban communities and the result is that the implementation of transit is stifled in favor of the highways that the suburban residents want.

    There is a serious issue taking place where transit is being stifled, and highways are being fast-tracked. The consequences of continuing to fast-track the highway are likely to cause harm to the less affluent residents in the area who depend on transit (that has seen significant cuts in the last decade).

  2. Matt – “less affluent residents” – are you afraid to say black people?

    The fact is, Wisconsin and Milwaukee commerce is going to be “boosted” mostly by the middle and upper class, not the dirt poor. The Zoo Interchange is over 50 years old and extremely outdated with needed repairs and redesign and takes major priority over a few minor and less important public transit issues which have little effect on the state and city economy. Highways are being fast-tracked because they are much more important at this time, and needing to be redone – quit exaggerating the issue. The “less affluent residents” still have options and are not being harmed.

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