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The Project

Originally built in the early 1960s and linking the state’s $810 million investment in the Marquette Interchange and ongoing $1.7 billion investment in the Zoo Interchange, the I-94 East-West corridor runs for 3.5 miles between 16th and 70th Streets in Milwaukee County. Nearly 21,000 businesses, 310,000 jobs and 540,000 residents are located within a 5-mile radius of the corridor’s center. The stretch connects Milwaukee and Waukesha counties to points beyond, is a main artery for Wisconsin commerce and serves as the gateway for the products, jobs, destinations and health care that make our region vibrant and strong.

But this critical roadway is at a tipping point as its age and ongoing deterioration create significant congestion, safety and economic development challenges. The East-West carries between 140,000 and 160,000 vehicles per day – 30,000 more than its 1950s-era design intended. Left-side ramps, narrow shoulders, short weaving distances and other outdated features are failing to provide safe operating conditions for today’s cars, buses and large trucks. The average crash rate is 2-3 times higher than the statewide urban freeway average and at some points, more than 4 times higher.

Full reconstruction and modernization of the East-West corridor has been on the state’s agenda for some time, and millions of dollars have already been spent on engineering, planning and environmental study for the effort. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have worked diligently on a preferred alternative that cut well over $200 million off total project cost and includes essential safety and efficiency upgrades, as well as a neighborhood-sensitive design that avoids nearby homes, businesses, cemeteries and the national historic landmark associated with the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center.

The East-West project had been progressing toward a 2020-21 start until February 2017, when funding to keep it moving forward was unexpectedly cut from the state’s proposed 2017-19 budget. Recognizing the disastrous economic, social and safety implications of further delaying this critical improvement, organizations worked diligently to get state leaders to reinstate funding and Wisconsin’s commitment to rebuilding this important economic corridor for metro Milwaukee, Waukesha County and the entire state.

Unfortunately, these efforts were not successful. No funding or authorization to proceed with the project was provided in the 2017-19 budget. After federal authorities warned the state it would pull authorization for the project if the state didn’t come up with a funding plan, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation requested the Federal Highway Administration rescind its Record of Decision.

Benefits of Moving Forward

  • Helps ensure a positive return on the $2.5 billion the state and federal government have spent to rebuild the Marquette and Zoo interchanges, whose modern benefits will only work as well as intended if the primary freeway connecting them is equally efficient and safe.
  • Preserves the roughly $20 million the state has already invested in planning, environmental study and early engineering work.  The more time that elapses after the rescinding of the project’s Record of Decision, the more likely a re-study of the corridor will be necessary, seriously jeopardizing the consensus built among a broad range of stakeholders who participated during the EIS process and adding costs.
  • Avoids the need for Band-Aid solutions – such as another resurfacing in the near future (estimated at $40 million-plus) requiring two more years of lane closures, user delays, and more crashes – that will add to the overall cost, while doing nothing to solve the underlying safety and traffic-handling problems.
  • Supports additional economic development in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties and enhances the region’s efforts to grow. A good transportation network is key to economic growth and job creation and consistently ranks as a top issue among business executives determining desirable locations for commercial investment.