Coalition Urges Budget Committee to Stop I-94 Expansion, Save Taxpayers Hundreds of Millions
With Transportation Budget Negotiations at an Impasse, Cut to Highway Expansions Could Reduce Bonding, Bring Funds for Local Infrastructure Down the Road
MILWAUKEE — In a letter delivered to the state legislature’s budget committee, a coalition of 25 statewide and local organizations is urging the Joint Finance Committee not to give the go-ahead to an $850 million expansion of I-94 in Milwaukee currently being considered by the Wisconsin DOT. As legislators face an impasse over how to fund the state’s transportation priorities, the Coalition for More Responsible Transportation (CMRT) encouraged the JFC to scale back the costly expansion, calling it “a project that the community does not want, Milwaukee does not need, and Wisconsin simply cannot afford.” If the project were enumerated in the current budget process, the state would have to take on more debt, raise taxes or cut other priorities to pay for the costly expansion in the years to come.
“We appreciate past statements from members of the Committee, questioning whether $1.3 billion in state bonding or higher taxes and fees would constitute a sustainable solution to our state’s transportation funding problems,” the letter reads. “We agree that some proposed projects should be reexamined and scaled back — and we encourage you to start right here in Milwaukee, with the unnecessary expansion of I-94.”
CMRT has long criticized the proposed expansion of I-94, pointing to WISDOT’s unrealistic traffic projections for the Interstate’s East-West Corridor; the coalition supports repairing the highway without adding lanes, which would cost far less, and investing in local infrastructure needs. Studies by WISPIRG and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin have found declining traffic counts along I-94, whereas WISDOT had predicted that traffic would increase sharply in order to justify the expansion project. Just days ago, a Federal Court ruled that Wisconsin would receive no federal funding to expand Highway 23 between Fond du Lac and Plymouth because WISDOT had used inaccurate traffic projections to justify that $146 million expansion.
A recent report by WISPIRG, Sierra Club and 1000 Friends found that by scaling back four questionable highway expansion projects, the state could save taxpayers nearly $500 million in the coming biennium. That report recommended using these savings to reduce the state’s reliance on bonding and to reinvest in local priorities like road repair, transit and bike/pedestrian infrastructure. The report also urged the legislature not to enumerate the $850 million expansion of I-94, which is still in the planning stage, due to the burden it would place on the transportation budget in future years.
The Coalition for More Responsible Transportation (CMRT) is composed of faith-based, public interest, social justice, public health, environmental and transportation advocacy groups, as well as of hundreds of concerned citizens from Milwaukee and beyond. With spending on big-ticket highway expansions skyrocketing statewide at the expense of local infrastructure investments — and increasingly financed by heavy borrowing — CMRT is calling for more responsible, cost-effective transportation spending that better meets local needs.
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