Dave Reid
Car Culture

Groups Sue to Stop Zoo Interchange

No money for transit, but plenty for freeway expansion.

By - Aug 30th, 2012 04:15 pm
Car Culture

Car Culture

Lawsuits and legal maneuvers aren’t new in the fight between urban and suburban transportation interests. While urban groups fight for more transportation options, suburban groups time and again promote a single mode of transportation.

The ACLU of Wisconsin and Midwest Environment Advocates have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of MICAH and the Black Health Coalition, challenging the state’s decision to go forward with a $1.7 billion expansion of the Zoo Interchange. The groups claim the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider all the impacts of expansion.

Rev. Willie Brisco, MICAH President, quoted on the ACLU of Wisconsin blog, spells out the motivation behind the lawsuit stating, “We all know that people of color depend on transit to get to work… We need more transit – to more places where the jobs are – not just highways that don’t help these members of our community get to work.”

This isn’t the first time WisDOT has been sued over this very issue.  A settlement was reached in 2000, which arose out of a similar lawsuit regarding I-94 corridor planning.  According to The ACLU of Wisconsin, the WisDOT agreed it would “continue to use its best efforts to expand and improve transit service within the Milwaukee Metropolitan Area to enable transit dependent residents of Milwaukee to better access areas of job growth.”  But where are the tangible results of that promise?

These groups are not trying to stop the whole project, and are not arguing against rebuilding the interchange. Rather, they are taking issue with WisDOT’s continued disinvestment in Milwaukee’s transit system, while continuing to plow forward with costly freeway expansions. This practice has disproportionately benefited suburban residents at the expense of the residents of the City of Milwaukee — specifically the poor and others who depend on transit to get to work.

While this lawsuit is an attempt to encourage WisDOT to develop a diversified transportation system, another ongoing legal maneuver attempts to do just the opposite. Brett Healy, President of the John K. MacIver Institute of Public Policy, has filed a petition with the Public Service Commission to force the City of Milwaukee to pay utility relocation costs of the streetcar project, effectively an attempt to stop the city from moving forward with diversifying its transportation system. Over the past 20 years plans for commuter rail, light rail, busways, and dedicated funding for standard bus service have been dropped, cut, and routinely attacked by suburban leaders at the expense of city residents, while at the same time freeway expansion after freeway expansion receives the green light.

There’s no doubt the Zoo Interchange is an important piece of Wisconsin’s transportation network, but freeways shouldn’t be the only piece of that network.

A Toronto Mayor’s War on Bikes

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is no friend of bicyclists and has a long record of being an outspoken champion of car culture.  He’s often complained about a “war on cars,” and once famously said, “I can’t support bike lanes. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks.”  Then as if to solidify his car culture credentials,  he added, “My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.” That’s right, Ford automatically blames the bicyclists if any are killed on the streets of Toronto.

I might suggest inattentive driving as the real problem, not people biking on the street. Former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Held, who now does the Active Pursuit website, reports that drivers were at fault in five of the six bicyclist deaths on Wisconsin roads this year. Granted, that’s a small sample, but people texting, dialing, or even reading while driving are a much bigger threat to a bicyclist’s life than someone attentively driving along side bicyclists in a bike lane.

So when Ford was recently spotted reading while driving his black Cadillac Escalade down a freeway in Toronto, his actions point to the real problem, distracted driving. Mr. Mayor, put that paper down so you don’t kill someone.

Mayor Ford Featured Tweet

Categories: Car Culture

15 thoughts on “Car Culture: Groups Sue to Stop Zoo Interchange”

  1. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Nothing screams “clueless douchebag” like a Cadillac Escalade.


    Anyway, I applaud the Zoo Interchange action but these guys need to be VERY CAREFUL about how they frame the argument. Once the goon squad hears about it all they wil hear is “blah blah black people… blah blah green” … they won’t understand that this is only about prioritizing transit and not stopping the whole project.

  2. Commuter says:

    I disagree heartily with the author.

    On the topic of the lawsuit, why sue the DOT regarding freeway expansion when the goal is to get more funding for public transportation? I’m not in favor of litigation of this type, but the is a clear disconnect. Why would you sue the Federal Highway Administration in an attempt to get more public transit? If the ACLU is going to sue anyone over anything, it should be the Milwaukee County Transit System for cutting bus routes, etc. And what does a lawsuit get you anyway? I doubt the ACLU will be giving the money to the community for bus passes.

    On the topic of the streetcar; if not the City of Milwaukee, who should pay for the cost of the utility relocation? WE Energies? Milwaukee County residents? If the City wants the benefits of having a streetcar (increased commercial development, relocation of large employers to the City, increased tourist traffic, improved standing as a “modern city”), then why should WE Energies or anyone else pay for it?

  3. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Anonymous Commuter

    I can’t speak for the author, but why would the ACLU and the Midwest Environmental Advocates sue MCTS? MCTS receives two-thirds of its funding from other entities, with a significant portion of that coming from the state. Therefore it seems that if the ACLU wanted to draw attention to the state cutting transit funding by 10% in the latest budget cycle and still expanding highway funding, it would make the most sense to sue the WisDOT. They don’t want a cash payment out of it, they want transit to be funded and incorporated into regional planning. Suing MCTS would be going after the victim.

    If you want to change how utility relocation works for transit projects, do you also want to change it for roads and other infrastructure? Should I as a Milwaukee resident sue to stop a highway rebuild in Racine County? In Wauwatosa? The Marquette Interchange had an initial estimate of $120 million, and a final cost of $32 million, which resulted in no lawsuits over who pays what. If the PSC rules in favor of Brett Healy, does that change the game? Should my family on the fringe of WE Energies service territory sue to stop WE Energies from paying to relocate utilities on highways they rarely use? Should local municipalities regulate exactly where utilities put their lines under streets and charge rent?

    Countless other cities have solved this problem by acknowledging that it’s just the cost of business for the utility. In exchange, the utility gets to lay their infrastructure rent free.

  4. Bill Sell says:

    The history of transit (bus and rail) in Milwaukee’s metro area is filled with a struggle between the City and the State, with southeast Wisconsin gradually losing a spectacularly designed and successful multi-county rail system the was the key to Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha’s and Waukesha County’s growth as urban centers. With the car comes sprawl. Folks who move out to the boonies in the hope of living a quaint country life soon begin to see other houses in their purview, like a gardener being overcome with plants not of her choosing. The antidote to sprawl is a vital urban center that people prefer (and can better afford). The continuing rise in fuel costs is bringing this issue back. For the immediate need, there are jobs and workers that are separated in contradiction to national highway policy. The lawsuit attempts to address this discrimination without taking anyone’s car away. The director of SEWRPC himself has been an passionate advocate of dedicated funding for our bus system.

    People who love their wide open green spaces and enormous yards should band together with transit advocates. Transit is how you can best protect your big yards. Making a city desirable to live in (walkable, healthy, and jobs-accessible) is the best way to protect open spaces out in the country.

  5. EngineerBob says:

    The issue at hand regarding the Zoo is that SEWRPC does not have a tangible plan in place for transit expansion in SE WI. After spending billions of dollars on freeways to last 75 years, it seems like a lost opportunity to me to at least have the infrastructure in place when transit expansion is ready. If and when we do decide to build better modes of transit, it will be much much more costly to build it later than incorporate it in the current designs. Another note, the lawsuit by ACLU is too little too late as the plans for the Zoo are too far along to change without costly change orders.

    As far as the streetcar goes, a private utility is “borrowing” the use of public lands by placing their facilities within the right of way. If a public entity needs to use that land for any purpose, the utility needs to get out of the way. Yes, ratepayers would get the hit from any utility move, however, a victory by Brett Healy would be a terrible precident for all future infrastucture projects.

  6. Karyn Rotker (ACLU of WI) says:

    Anon: – We are not suing MCTS. We are suing WisDOT and the Federal Highway Administration for their ongoing, discriminatory decision making process that funds billions of dollars for highway project after highway project while starving transit, and refusing to look at the indirect and cumulative consequences – including discriminatory consequences – of doing so.

  7. blurondo says:

    Reminds me of our battle in the 70’s to stop the Park West Freeway. We won. Hope that you are successful, too.

  8. CJ says:

    Maybe Milwaukee County should build Toll Roads for the fancy suburbanites who commute to the City for work, sporting events, entertaining, etc… That’s what Chicago did 🙂

  9. Commuter says:

    Now that is an idea I’d support!
    You use the services, you should pay for them.
    Stupid Illinois has super-nice freeways because of this.

  10. Stacy Moss says:

    I don’t get the discrimination argument. This is not zero sum game. Our highways need work.

    Isn’t their a better way to make the point?

    Our bus system is in a death spiral. Our transit system is tragically under imagined and developed.
    How about a plan to make the bus system really a lot better.

    In the meantime, this fight is too petty to come to a good end.

  11. Bill Sell says:

    Stacy, I get your point, really. And it is not a zero-sum game. What I see is that the WisDOT is working only for the drivers in our state, not for those who cannot and should not be driving – which varies from area to area above 10% to over 25% of adults. Nevertheless spending on air, freight rail, and public transit is only 8% of the WisDOT budget. See graphs that I drew from the writing of a brilliant analyst, David Riemer: http://www.milwaukeerenaissance.com/BillSell/RoadCostsWhoPays

    It is zero-sum only if WisDOT makes it so. The State dominating local transportation needs has a long sad history in our state. While the Federal government requires planners to include housing patterns, job location, and public transit in state planning, WisDOT has deftly avoided this responsibility for too long; and last year the State budget reduced these sad figures (above, 2010) even more. Yes, there is a coalition of voices raising these concerns to the Feds, year after year. Even last fall here in Bay View we raised those concerns. Even last year, there is a move to extend the Lakeparkway southward with no public transportation consideration. None. It is probably time to make the law work for all of us.

  12. Xena says:

    GREAT IDEA!!!! ~
    WHY Must PEDESTRIAN Press a Button the WALK across the Streets these days Also???
    I am sure the subtle BS idea of having to ASK to WALK is rooted in Koch (Dirty OIL) -Controlled Scott Walker somehow……….

  13. Commuter says:

    @Xena: Obvious Troll is obvious. A constructive conversation is going on here, so keep the rhetoric out of it.

  14. caravel says:

    Does anyone know if bus riders will get to use GPS bus tracking any time soon?

    The last comment by Kevin Muhs in this article indicates that it is being worked on http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2010/11/23/mcts-should-take-the-next-step-to-government-2-0/

  15. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Caravel – It’s actively being worked on. I will have an update with a better estimate shortly.

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