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.