The Contrarian

Call It The Walker Bottleneck

Efforts to revive E-W Freeway look dead. Oddly, Barrett and Walker both support this.

By - Feb 19th, 2018 02:59 pm
I-94 Expansion. Rendering from WisDOT.

I-94 Expansion. Rendering from WisDOT.

The effort to revive Milwaukee’s E-W freeway project appears dead.

On Friday the Walker Administration delivered what one observer called “the kill shot.”

Namely, according to the Department of Transportation, the $25 million needed to restart the project would “result in reduced funding availability for other [outstate] projects already funded…which could result in project delays or terminations elsewhere in the state.” That assessment, part of the fiscal note to Assembly Bill 919, pretty much assured that outstate legislators would opposed the $25 million plan.

It also clashed with the bill’s assumption that the department would “identify efficiencies in the programs it administers…under an existing cost-saving or efficiency assessment program…”

Not so fast, says WisDOT. According to the fiscal note: “The bill requires WisDOT [to] identify $25 million in programs administered by the department. WisDOT has already initiated numerous cost saving initiatives, which have been reallocated to the continued delivery of administered programs.” That wording, by the way, conflicts with the narrative advanced in some quarters that the transportation department’s $2.6 billion highway budget is awash in “waste.” If that is so, then clearly WisDOT could find $25 million — less than 1 percent of the highway budget — in “efficiencies.”

Senior administration officials had told AB 919 sponsors that Gov. Scott Walker would sign the bill if it reached his desk. That effectively was an empty pledge, as WisDOT simultaneously was telling out-state legislators it could not finance the legislation without cutting other projects, which would all but guarantee their opposition.

A big “winner” from the demise of AB 919 is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Along with a collection of groups that had sued to stall E-W project, Barrett has opposed it. The mayor now stands to get his wish, a stop-gap repaving (that will cost much more than $25 million) that will serve only to clog up the 3.5 mile stretch of worn out freeway that lies between the new Marquette and Zoo Interchanges. The eventual cost of rebuilding the freeway, now on indefinite hold, now will substantially exceed the current $1 billion estimate.

The list of losers is topped, of course, by users of the accident-prone and outmoded stretch of the state’s Interstate system. A broad coalition of businesses and Marquette University have supported the E-W reconstruction. Governor Walker has turned a deaf ear to their agenda, stating that major freeway work in Milwaukee is off the table “for the foreseeable future.”

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41 thoughts on “The Contrarian: Call It The Walker Bottleneck”

  1. Troll says:

    It is dead because the left wants it dead.

  2. John Casper says:

    @ Troll #1

    Do you think error you made above–“the left wants it dead”–is a result of your “daddy issue?”

    “I think I have daddy issue. …”

  3. Troll says:

    John, imagine your in almost any other part of the stateof Wisconsin and the Department of Transportation comes in and says, ” You have congestion here…we have $500 million dollars to fix the problem. Only in Milwaukee, do we have this great opposition. Why would Walker politically, want to force Milwaukee hand.? State money will be spent elsewhere and when we lose Miller Brewery to the fact they cannot get out of the Menomonee Valley in an efficient manner I suppose Walker will be blamed.

  4. FonzCon says:

    Yeah, that’s what happens when you allow the left have all the levers of power….oh, wait.

  5. John Casper says:

    @ Troll #3

    Did you like George Mitchell’s 2013 OP-ED, “Why Dan Bice Should Resign:
    The Journal Sentinel columnist’s coverage of John Doe probe is a case study in journalistic malfeasance?”

  6. mike says:

    The state’s plan was nothing short of disrespectful of the people of Milwaukee. It offered either a preposterous double decker or incredibly bloated horizontally. Neither of which would have been economically sustainable without further necessitating the need for increased use taxes (of course, if we are to increase use taxes then we won’t have any congestion, but I digress…). A reasonable plan would have had no right-of-way expansion, and reconfigured several interchanges to be more considerate of the street grid (Hawley rd, 35th, 27th), while adding sound paneling throughout.

    But at the end of the day, Milwaukee’s urban highways realistically only have another life cylce in the them before they get thrown on the trash heap of bad experiments, and this just accelerates that pace by a decade or 2 on I-94. It boggles the mind any one thinks we should make a 40-75 year investment into these roads that we know are so damaging to our social fabric.

  7. dragonkat says:

    yes, and in Illinois we’re enjoying the news that Miller Brewery might be relocation to Rockford, IL, just like Foxconn more jobs for us and WI foots all the cost!!!

  8. The projected cost of this project was outrageous and the benefits negligible. It was another solution in search of a problem. DOT’s answer why we need these projects is the equivalent of “Because we can.”If the governor really wanted this and other projects done he would support his legislators’ efforts to raise the gas tax. He didn’t because he needs the tea party vote to win re-election.


    It’s accurate to say that opposition from the left was a factor. It enable the Walker administration to say there is not a local consensus. But of course that was true when the administration began the planning, an effort that cost $25 million.

  10. DNB says:

    I spend considerable off-time in the Kettle Moraine. For 25 yrs my go-to spot was Lapham Peak, driving the easy 40 Mins from my neighborhood near Miller and Harley Davidson to Delafield for the afternoon and often eating dinner there before returning to Milwaukee. Because of the unfinished I-94 freeway mess at the zoo interchange, have found many alternatives.

    We look to our leaders to work together to maintain and improve our infrastructure. This failure of all parties hampers all of us and leaves us in a competitive disadvantage.

  11. John Hagen says:

    It is dead because Walker will do everything in his power to hurt left leaning Milwaukee.
    Witness his “hands off” dealing with the police and fire unions in Milwaukee so he could get their support. Of course he paid for it by outlawing Milwaukee’s requirement that city employees must live in the city. This has hurt the city as Milwaukee is the highest paying municipality in SE Wisconsin. and likely the state, and now there is large exodus of these well paid people to the suburbs.
    Of course, for any and all other municipal unions, Walker has virtually shut them down. His reasoning is that unions are bad and cost way too much money to be allowed to continue.

  12. Terry says:

    @Troll, well the money is not being spent up north because the roads and infrastructure up here are complete and total sh#t, just like all of your and other republican’s stupid lies and idiocy.

    Dump Walker 2018


    DNB is correct.

  14. KRalph says:

    To J. Hagen, the neighbors surrounding this portion of I-94 do not want this expansion of the freeway.
    Your statement is incorrect for these individuals who live in the city.

  15. JAnderson says:

    I’m amazed that Walker turns his back on Milwaukee. He was raised here, went to school here, attended MU, got elected to the Legislature from here and was elected several times as Milwaukee County Executuve by big margins. Has he no pride and loyalty to his home town? Legislators from up north have fierce loyalty to their areas and constantly deliver for them. Not Walker.

    After all the money that’s been poured into improving the Zoo and Marquette interchanges, we are left with a mess of roads between them. And Walker doesn’t care. What a shame.

  16. blurondo says:

    It’s time to stop the eternal underwriting of the automobile. Virtually nothing creative or thoughtful has been suggested or tried which would make the existing roadways more efficient or reduce the number of vehicles. (That number is however, on the decline). The only solutions that are ever offered come from those who are invested in concrete, concrete and more concrete.

  17. PMD says:

    It’s all politics JAnderson and that supersedes everything else. Look how he touts Madison when it’s useful and then bashes it when it’s useful. He is a textbook career politician and that’s how he thinks.

    I agree blurondo. I found it amusing when a state official was talking about transportation options re: Foxconn. He was like “everything is on the table.” As an example he said Uber/Lyft and buses. Wow! How innovative and forward-thinking!

  18. MidnightSon says:

    The Walker angle to this is interesting. I’m not completely versed in this, but less than a year ago, Walker wanted to incur $3 BILLION in debt to finance freeway (re)construction. In the face of tax cuts. Seriously? Now, he’s fine with scrapping the I-94 plan. Those closer to the situation might know why, but I suspect he’s allowing the Foxconn deal to fund freeways and can politically afford to drop the rest of the plan in Milwaukee County.

    Fact is, metro Milwaukee has one of the shortest “rush hours” of any other metro area. All things considered, it lasts for less than an hour. I remember it being a very reasonable 30 minutes or less from downtown to Waukesha count at its peak–something like that. Smart governments don’t plan freeways to that they are smooth sailing at peak use. They build what is reasonable needed. Reasonable construction and reasonable costs. The I-94 plan was going to add unneeded lanes (or another level!). This plan was being shoved down Milwaukee’s throat.

    Wisconsin Republicans and others in rural areas are dead set against mass transit, regional transit authorities, etc. The state has not been more anti-city in decades. The WEDC’s $1 million PR plan to recruit Chicago millennials to move to Wisconsin because of shorter commute times is laughable. At least down here in Chicago it is. For Wisconsin Republicans, Chicago’s “L,” Metra, etc. are part of the problem. For those of us down here, it’s the solution.

    Here are some of the recent corporate headquarters that have announced moved to the City of Chicago. This is in addition to those like MillerCoors and Boeing, which have moved down here recently:


    MidnightSon says “less than a year ago, Walker wanted to incur $3 BILLION in debt to finance freeway (re)construction.”

    This is inaccurate. Walker’s largest high debt proposal, which the GOP legislature wisely scrapped, was for 1.3billion in the 2015-17 budget.

  20. PMD says:

    Not only do we not have a real problem with commute times here, we’re actually recognized as one of the best cities in America for commuters (tied for #3)!

  21. Sam says:

    I live right next to this stretch of I-94 and use it frequently. I don’t know where it gets it’s “accident prone” characterization (perhaps there are statistics on this), but anecdotally I’ve never encountered this.

    It backs up for Brewer games and the morning/evening commute undoubtedly, but compared to other metros it isn’t much of an inconvenience. I always scratch my head at people’s complaints about traffic and parking in Milwaukee, it’s like these folks have never spent anytime anywhere else. Milwaukee’s traffic is minimal and the parking ample.

    A resurfacing will be welcomed and take a lot less time to finish then a full rebuild. Perhaps if the metro area saw large population growth a full rebuild with added lanes would be warranted. That isn’t the case.



    For info on accident rates and much more see the EIS at

    As to repaving vs reconstruction the economics are clear…the next repaving at a cost of perhaps $50m will last just a few years….like all Eisenhower era freeways, the E-W is shot. Already has been repaved 3 times. Law of diminishing returns has taken over.

  23. PMD says:

    George are you advocating for reconstruction and widening, or reconstruction because it’s shot due to old age?



    For reasons laid out in the EIS and in SEWRPC studies over the last 15 years, I favor the plan approved by the feds before Walker asked them to rescind the approval.

    Reconstruction really is not an issue. It has to happen.

    Widening is the bone of contention. I favor widening. Reasons why are detailed in the EIS.

  25. PMD says:

    For those of us who haven’t read the EIS, what are the justifications for widening? Thanks.


    PMD: If you don’t want to read/skim the EIS then you probably aren’t all that interested in the issue. The opponents who have commented here throw around a lot of rhetoric. Road projects don’t lend themselves to sloganeering.

  27. Matt says:

    Here’s an idea: run a train down the middle of I-94, from Milwaukee to Madison. Use the park & rides for train stops. It’s so simple. It will get people out of their cars, and onto the train. They can still live in the suburbs. But instead, use the commute time to prepare for their day, or on their way home wrap their day up on their digital devices. It can get suburban people downtown for all the festivals (read: less drunk driving) and to and from the Brewer games. It will save on wear & tear on the cars and the freeways.

    Just put a damn train down the middle of the freeway and let the city expand and let people that work in the city have options on where to live other than Wauwatosa or Waukesha.

    And no, people from the city aren’t going to go out to the suburbs and steal things. Like someone is going to ride the train out to Pewaukee and steal something from a suburbanite and take it home on the train. I don’t think so.

    Instead we get a stupid streetcar that we had 70 years ago, and goes in a loop? Put a train down the middle of I-94!

  28. Tim says:

    As with anything garbage in, garbage out. DOT conclusions are the same… look at the court cases they lose by blatantly cooking the books.

    More decisions looking for reasons.

  29. MidnightSon says:

    George Mitchell, the $3B was in cost overruns on the 16 or so projects currently underway in Wisconsin. Not in a single biennial budget, granted. But, I never claimed such.

    You’ve previously cited the $3B in overruns and the mismanagement fo “Walker’s Department of Transportation.”

    Everyone was covering this last summer.

    Plan wisely scrapped? Indeed. This from Republicans? Laughable.

    Milwaukee doesn’t need a double-decker Interstate for its 22-minute rush hour.

  30. Tim says:

    Matt, Walker said NO.


    MidnightSun: My piece cited $3b in new debt since GOP took control in 2010. You are correct that Walker & Co. own that.

    Where, exactly, did I cite “$3B in overruns and the mismanagement”?



    Where, exactly, did I cite “$3B in overruns and the mismanagement”?

    You are correct that Walker/GOP have added $3b in debt since GOP takeover in 2010.

  33. Janderson says:

    Matt – you are the most creative person on here. The I-94 train is outstanding in all the ways you mention. The streetcar is an excellent downtown transit service and a great connector to your train.

    I cringe every time I recall that Walker rejected nearly a billion dollars in rapid train funding for Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison. It’s hard to figure out why the Republicans simply hate mass transit of every kind. It’s amazing they haven’t figured out a way to kill the airlines industry.

  34. Kevin says:

    I think it is incredibly redundant to rebuild a full-scale interchange at Miller Park Way/175 and I-94. I wrote our state representatives to offer lessor, more conservative options, but I received generic political responses.

    In my observation, the following should occur to improve this stretch of interstate:

    + remove all left lane entrance and exit ramps
    + remove the Mitchel Blvd. median exit/entrance ramps to I-94 (this would reduce the East/West footprint)
    + turn Miller Park Way/175/43rd Street into a 4-lane parkway similar to 794 with speeds at 35 to 40 MPH
    + remove the Stadium Interchange in favor of tight diamond interchange to reduce the foot print.

  35. David says:

    I would just love to see what would really happen if you just tore them all out. Really, honestly, what would happen if we got rid of all these big, noisy, hyper polluting money sinks that we call “Free”ways? Would the fabric of society really come apart? Would it really be the end of modern life like so many seem to think? I don’t think so. I think we would design our society in a smarter way and be much stronger for it.

  36. John Casper says:

    Learning a lot about transportation, thanks to many fine commenters.

  37. DNB says:

    Thank you Kevin for tangible specifics on Stadium interchange section. Only thing I would add is to straighten 94 where it goes around the ghost of County Stadium and reconsider logic of ramps every 8 blocks from 27th past Hawley. One doesnt need more lanes if frequency of slow traffic entering/exiting highway is reduced.

  38. mike says:

    @DNB. Agreed. Eliminating accesses is the key to improving the corridor. The 27th street ramps would be ideal to close. Widening out roads and running them through legacy dense, walkable cooridors is never a great idea. Getting rid of those ramps would really go a long way toward supporting the reinvestment into that corridor of 27th street from St. Paul all the way to North. Plus, 27th street has one of shorter bridge spans across Menominee valley, so with less traffic it could be improved to being a decent pedestrian corridor between the north & south sides, something our city does not have.

  39. TransitRider says:

    Running trains up the middle of freeways is a really bad idea for several reasons.

    It’s bad for the freeway

    Medians are not wasted space; they are safety buffers for out-of-control vehicles. If you put train tracks there, you lose that buffer (there would be guard rails or concrete barriers within a few feet of the left traffic lane) bouncing skidding cars back into traffic where they can hit other cars.

    Also, today when lanes are closed for construction, traffic is often moved across the median to the other roadway. That isn’t possible with a railroad there. Preventing traffic from temporarily crossing over during construction will make projects take longer, cost more, and be more disruptive.

    There’s no room in medians for train stations

    All you could squeeze into a median (besides the tracks themselves) would be a narrow boarding platform and even that would be obstructed by stairways and elevators. There would be no room for a taxi stand, a parking lot, or even a “kiss-and-ride” lane (where passengers get dropped off by their spouse).

    It’s awful for passengers

    Waiting passengers would stand in the middle of a freeway—a very unpleasant and unhealthy place. The air quality sucks, and it’s really loud (hard to hear a companion or a phone). Try driving down a freeway with all your windows rolled down to see what I mean (and then try to imagine that the train station is even louder).

    It repels walkable development

    People like living within walking distance of train stations, but hate living that close to freeways. Businesses place office buildings next to train stations but not next to freeways—notice how they always separate the buildings from the freeway with parking lots. The only things that freeway exits are good at attracting are motels, gas stations, strip malls, and big box stores.

    One benefit of train lines is the walkable development their stations generate; freeways never generate walkable development. Notice all the development that started in downtown after the streetcar was announced. Fifty years of downtown freeways never caused anything comparable; even the Park East area only took off after the freeway was removed.

    If you put train stations inside an expressway, there may well be no walkable development at all.

  40. jeff brown deer says:

    I just read that the German Government is looking into free mass transit in five major cities in an attempt to lower air pollution do to automobiles. I guess that this is too radical an idea for any of our government agencies to think about.

  41. Big Al says:

    Here’s a novel idea – toll I-94 and use those funds to repair/rebuild/expand the freeway. The users of the freeway should pay for all costs incurred, just like all the Republicans demand transit should pay for itself. Otherwise you’re just freeloaders!

    And skip the argument that you are already paying for it through the gas tax. The gas tax hasn’t covered the costs of the highways for years (even if you add back in the $$ that goes to transit). Unless you’re willing to raise the gas tax enough to cover all the costs of the highway projects.

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