Is the Plankinton Exit Worth $60 Million?
Some months ago the state Department of Transportation announced a plan for rebuilding the mammoth Marquette Interchange that did not include any exits or entrances at Plankinton Avenue. The outrage from downtown representatives was immediate. That leaves “no off and on ramp from 7th Street to Jackson,” developer Gary Grunau complains. “We think that’s too long.”
DOT reconsidered and has now provided several alternatives, which it presented at a meeting this past Tuesday, at the Milwaukee Athletic Club. Governor Scott McCallum, Lt. Governor Margaret Farrow and many other political and business leaders were there, but there was no coverage by the media. Apparently, none of the 200 or so reporters at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel were available to cover this issue.
“There needs to be a lot more discussion on this issue,” says Steve Jacquart, policy advisor for Mayor John Norquist. At stake are such issues as freeway safety, downtown business development and the price tag for taxpayers, which is now at $1.4 billion and rising. “Every time there’s a change in the plan, there’s another $100 million cost,” Jacquart notes.
In the case of the Plankinton Avenue issue, DOT has offered three plans: (A): no interchange there at all; (B): an interchange providing access from the north and south only (for an added cost of $47 million); and (C): an interchange with access from north, south and west (added cost $60 million).
“It’s a very costly difference,” says Mike Paddock, a consultant with CH2M Hill, which is assisting DOT with the Marquette plan. “The immediate reaction from the community was that they absolutely had to have [the entire Plankinton interchange]. Now that they’ve seen what they have to give up, the community is really swinging back to considering option B.”
The full interchange would require the freeway to be 15 feet higher, which would leave it just 12 feet from a Wisconsin Electric Power Co. building and would require two businesses, Allied Glove and Stone Creek, to move. Even proponents of Plankinton access like Grunau agree that option C is too much concrete. “We call it the dead C,” he quips.
Grunau and others have proposed an option they call “B plus,” which would add a ramp that goes underneath the freeway and provides an entrance at Plankinton for those traveling west. This, of course, could add considerably to the $47 million price tag on plain old option B.
For DOT, the rationale for eliminating the Plankinton interchange is “you improve the safety,” Paddock notes. “You have less lane changes and decisions that drivers have to make in a short distance.”
DOT estimates that it will only take drivers one to two more minutes to get downtown without a Plankinton interchange. But Tangen is dubious about that: “I don’t want to say I don’t believe their numbers because it took us a long time to forge a relationship with DOT. Initially it was quite stormy. We had deep misunderstandings that we have now overcome.”
But most observers give DOT credit for listening to the community. “Years ago they would have put a plan out and the hell with it,” says Pete Beitzel of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “They’ve really changed. Now they’re starting to take seriously people and what their concerns are.”
“We’ve watched people go 360 degrees on these issues,” Beitzel says. “It really depends on whose ox is gored.”
Tangen admits that he is concerned about access to his neighborhood. But he adds that there are businesses located near Plankinton that have made investment decisions based on access to the freeway. “We’re not asking for more. We’re just asking for that to be maintained,” Grunau says.
Jacquart says the mayor supports a Plankinton interchange, along with the downtown business improvement district, and the East and West Town associations. But the leadership of both the MMAC and the Greater Milwaukee Committee is divided.
Grunau is optimistic that option B plus will win the day. “We’re probably 30 days from getting a solution on Plankinton,” he says. But that will depend on the cost figures and other data that DOT presents; running an access ramp beneath the freeway could be a tricky proposition.
Common Council President Marvin Pratt went to lunch with Norquist and politely let him know that Pratt was going to announce his campaign for mayor. Pratt is expected to make a formal announcement soon. He has been very visible in the community attending events like the recent South Shore Water Frolics in Bay View.
Pratt reportedly hasn’t raised that much money in the last six months, but once his campaign for mayor is official the limit for individual donations goes up from $375 to $3,000. Pratt has told some he expects to raise at least $70,000 over the next six months.
Tom Nardelli, another alderman flirting with a run for mayor, is always a font of frank quotes. On the question of a taxpayers’ bailout for its pro basketball team, Nardelli says this: “The Bucks want the moon. They want everything they can get.”
It’s official: Rep. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) publicly came out of the closet, confirming the fact that he is gay in a feature story in the latest issue of Milwaukee Magazine. Will his conservative, south side constituency hold it against him? “I’m German-Polish, 6-foot-2, and gay,” he says. “To use one part of me against me is a mistake.” My prediction is the tall Pole part will not be a problem.
This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.