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Walker abandons Interstate 94 project near Milwaukee (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker’s administration is abandoning the reconstruction and widening of Interstate 94 in Milwaukee between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges.

In a letter dated Sept. 29, Department of Transportation Secretary Dave Ross asked the federal government to rescind its authorization of the project.

The project was expected to cost $1 billion or more, but Walker did not include any money for it in the recently signed state budget. Ross told the Federal Highway Administration in his letter that it was unlikely the Legislature would pay for the project.

He also noted that opponents of the project had already filed a lawsuit trying to block it. Defending the plans now, he said, would be an “unnecessary expense for all parties involved.”

The Wisconsin Gazette first reported on the letter on Tuesday.

Representatives of various transportation groups have warned that the stretch of I-94 in question – running between 16th and 70th streets – will continue to act as a bottle neck between the rebuilt Marquette and Zoo interchanges unless it is also widened. They have also estimated that the state has already spent millions getting the project to the point where it could receive a “record of decision” from the federal government. That decision was granted in 2016, meaning that the state had the green light to go ahead with final designs and construction.

Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, said he has seen credible estimates that put the cost of getting the record of decision at $20 million. Even as some Milwaukee-area lawmakers vowed Wednesday to keep fighting for the project, Thompson called the Walker administration’s decision “a huge setback.”

He noted that many months were spent trying to find a way to prevent the expansion plans from encroaching on cemeteries on both the north and south sides of Interstate 94. In the end, state officials rejected one option that would have had the eastward-bound and westward-bound lanes stacked on top of one another in a “double-decker” design. Instead, they choose to go with a cheaper alternative making use of narrower-than-normal lanes.

“It took at least months if not years to get to the preferred alternative,” Thompson said. “Now, all of the engineer and a lot of the related work, that’s been thrown away.”

Thompson noted that the expansion project had been a priority of business leaders in southeastern Wisconsin.

“Now we’ve shown we don’t have the funding to do our highest-priority projects,” he said. “And we are unable to show a coherent plan to any businesses that are wanting to locate here.”

The Interstate 94 east-west project is likely the biggest casualty of a recent legislative battle that saw the state’s two-year budget being adopted nearly three months after its deadline. Gov. Scott Walker was at odds with his fellow Republicans in the state Assembly over the best way to raise the nearly $1 billion that were needed to keep various ongoing major highway projects more or less on schedule.

Walker initially proposed borrowing much of the needed money. Assembly Republicans were reluctant to saddle the state with so much debt, though. They instead called for raising the state’s gas tax and vehicle-registration fees.

In the end, the two sides compromised by authorizing about $400 million worth of new borrowing over the next two years and imposing new fees on hybrid and electric vehicles. Owners of hybrids will now have to pay an additional $75 a year and owners of electrical vehicles $100 a year.

– Dan Shaw of The Daily Reporter contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

2 comments

  1. This has got to be just about the stupidest thing Walker and the Republicans have done in this state. All that money spent to half complete the interchanges is totally wasted. The major artery through the largest city in the state is torn up, half unfinished, with closed exits and orange cones, and will stay that way for years. Wisconsin used to have the best highways in the Midwest. We’re turning into Arkansas. Thanks for nothing, GOP.

  2. ROD is NOT half-completed design; based on past experience is actually roughly “30% design” with focus being on alignment and identifying design and environmental related issues with potential mitigation measures.

    The ROD is based on an assessment of alternatives, including no-build, and selecting so called locally preferred alternative based on costs, benefits, and mitigation(s) required. [Now it isn’t “perfect” by any means but is better than just unilateral decision-making; and at an estimated to-date cost of $20 million can’t disparage it as being cheap]

    Yet here it is years later that after the length NEPA process and certification by ROD that there is a group filing lawsuit to block it. The question Wisconsinites need ask themselves is whether it really worth the endless delays associated unresolved litigation or simply shelve it – at least for now until there is a will [political and popular] to complete it.

    Although, I cant claim any familiarity with the I-94 lawsuit or its basis, can state unequivocally attest to the disastrous impacts of post-ROD lawsuits. For example see Honolulu Rail Project and see California High Speed Rail Project. Both have been delayed and suffered untold millions in additional costs to fend off/address post initiation lawsuits. Most people don’t appreciate that the plaintiffs will assail a project on any number of bases hoping to receive affirmation from the Judge of at least one, which inevitably means some backtracking and/or redo’s…and for what its worth EVEN Californians agree CEQA [CA implementation of NEPA] is in dire need of fixing. [for interested see http://www.governing.com/columns/assessments/gov-transportation-judges.html%5D

    Additionally, I would encourage any who feel that Governor/State should commit to the project to explain how amenable they are to having those budgeted funds set aside for possibly years while lawsuits get cleared; that money is not coming from a petty cash or some slush fund but rather FUNDED account designated for the specific project [think escrow or date of Bonds sale]. That is essentially the way it works and his pragmatic assessment may actually be in Wisconsin’s best fiscal interest in light of the OPPONENTS filing.

    If people want to rail against anyone then by all means but suggest that it be directed at the cause [filers] rather than effect[ed].

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