As 2022 comes to a close, we have some good news.
Wisconsin is one step closer to a safe, modern I-94 East-West Corridor. The I-94 East-West project, which runs past American Family Field and carries 150,000 to 169,000 vehicles a day and 17 million tons of freight a year, is continuing to move forward, and work could begin as soon as 2025. It has been a long process, which included a complete halt to this vital project at one point, but we can all be proud of the project’s progress.
The Federal Highway Administration recently signed off on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s extensive review of post-pandemic traffic data, safety, environmental impacts, and alternative designs and analysis. This comprehensive study of the corridor resulted in the department’s preferred alternative of a modernized eight-lane corridor with a diverging diamond interchange to replace the current Stadium Interchange.
WisDOT went to extraordinary lengths in recent years, conducting hundreds of project outreach meetings — nearly 200 since the summer of 2020 — seeking input from diverse stakeholders and the public. WisDOT staff took the feedback and developed a modern design that connects the Zoo and Marquette interchanges to maximize the safety and economic benefits of the state’s investment in these two major highway projects.
But WisDOT’s eight-lane preferred alternative does so much more.
It addresses the deteriorating conditions of the 60-year-old roadway, the obsolete and unsafe design, and the corridor’s significant congestion and high crash rates — without resorting to a double-decker highway or disturbing any adjacent graves.
In response to public input, the department also:
The department has worked diligently to minimize the footprint of the project and the impact on communities and their tax rolls, and it varies little between the six or eight-lane alternatives. Therefore, the cost variance is minimal — 3-6%, and the relocations are the same. WisDOT selected the eight-lane modernization option because it best addresses all the corridor’s known issues, specifically severe congestion and related safety challenges.
This project was never just about the speed of someone’s commute through and to Milwaukee. The I-94-East-West project is, at its core, about public safety, communities and people. The current outdated roadway poses a safety risk for users. The average crash rate on several corridor segments is two to three times higher than the statewide average. We know we can do better. Where Wisconsin has reconstructed, modernized and expanded Southeast Freeway System sections, crash rates have been reduced by up to 48%.
The safety benefit of the interstate’s modernization and expansion will extend beyond the project’s boundaries. Over the years, the corridor’s increasing unreliability has led to growing traffic diversions onto local streets as travelers avoid I-94 for more and more hours each day. Wisconsin Avenue, Bluemound Road, Greenfield Avenue and National Avenue are expected to see a drop in through traffic with an eight-lane alternative. Moving this traffic off local roads and onto the interstate will improve the safety of local roads as well.
Because WisDOT considered local concerns, the project varies from what was originally proposed. But it still accomplishes the main objectives WisDOT set to achieve a decade ago. The new eight-lane I-94 East-West project fully realizes the unmet potential of the two previously updated interchanges on either end. It will be a significant economic boost to the region and the state, and crash rates will be reduced. Good news, indeed.
Andrew Davis, vice president of Government Affairs, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce
Nancy Hernandez, president, Hispanic Collaborative
Tracy Johnson, president and CEO, Commercial Association of REALTORS® Wisconsin
Suzanne Kelley, president and CEO, Waukesha County Business Alliance
Chris Mambu Rasch, executive director, Building Advantage
Jim Villa, CEO, NAIOP Wisconsin