Don’t Expand I-94
Gov. Evers is wrong. It won’t help economy, will waste money and increase pollution.
Gov. Evers recently dusted off the previously shelved plan to expand I-94 between the Marquette and Zoo Interchanges. This project would cost an estimated $1 billion dollars to expand a mere 3.5 miles of interstate. Proponents claim it will create jobs and reduce congestion and travel times, however this expansion plan should be put back on the shelf, or better yet the garbage, for the following reasons. First, contrary to popular opinion, highway expansion does not reduce congestion and increases our dependence on cars. Secondly, if Wisconsin, the US, and the world have any chance of keeping global warming below 2.7° F, we need to immediately stop investing in infrastructure that will generate additional greenhouse emissions. Finally, endless highway expansion is a hugely expensive misuse of taxpayer dollars. Wisconsin should not expand I-94 and should not continue expanding highways.
Expanding highways does not reduce congestion. It encourages more driving and congestion remains constant or increases. Transportation for America recently released their report The Congestion Con which details how nationwide we’ve spent the last several decades and hundreds of billions of dollars widening and building new highways in order to “curb congestion.” Yet, this strategy has utterly failed to solve the problem. In fact, between 1993 and 2017, 30,511 new freeway lane-miles were added in the nation’s largest 100 urbanized areas, an increase of 42 percent. This rate of expansion far outstripped the 32 percent growth in population in those areas in the same period. Despite this massive investment, congestion has only increased by a staggering 144 percent. More locally, WisDOT admits that the Marquette interchange did not reduce congestion but blames that fact on a need to expand I-94 west of the Marquette Interchange. However, that begs the question where will it end? Adding lanes does not reduce congestion.
Finally, Wisconsin spends too much money building highways and not enough on maintenance, public transit, or other state priorities. The I-94 expansion is expected to cost $991 million, however Wisconsin’s last round of highway expansion cost nearly 100 percent more than WisDOT projections, so the price could come in closer to $1.9 billion for a mere 3.5-mile expansion. WisDOT likes to point out that in building highways much of the funding is frequently covered by federal grants; what they don’t like to point out is that Wisconsin is responsible for nearly all maintenance costs. For example, federal funds generally make up about 25 percent of WisDOT’s budget but usually only cover about 0.3 percent of highway maintenance and repair. Moreover, in Wisconsin, gas taxes and user fees are insufficient to cover the state’s portion of WisDOT’s budget. Therefore, since 2013 the legislature has been transferring money from the General Fund to WisDOT. General Fund money could be used to increase K-12 education funding, lower tuition for the UW System, or increase maintenance of State Parks. However, because Wisconsin keeps building highways, since 2013 we’ve had to divert $265.8 million from the General Fund to the Transportation Fund. This diversion comes on top of the fact Wisconsin already diverts the maximum amount allowable by law from the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program to highways. This is money that could (and should) be going to improve bicycle, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure but is instead continuously redirected to more highways. To further illustrate the financial unsustainability of Wisconsin’s obsession with expanding highways we can’t afford to maintain, since 2013 the state of Wisconsin has spent more on debt service than on highway maintenance yet we continue to spend billions of dollars on highway construction. Continuously expanding highways is a financially irresponsible waste of taxpayer dollars.
Wisconsin should stop expanding highways and instead focus on maintaining and repairing the highways we have and building out the states multimodal network. Expanding highways does not reduce congestion, expanding highways is the wrong thing to do for our shared climate, and expanding highways is financially irresponsible. Wisconsin should cancel all proposed and future highway expansion projects.
- Op Ed: Don’t Expand I-94 - James Davies - Jul 18th, 2020
- Evers Considering Abandoned $1.1 Billion I-94 Expansion - Shawn Johnson - Jul 9th, 2020
- The Contrarian: Could Milwaukee Freeway Project Be Revived? - George Mitchell - Dec 31st, 2018
- The Contrarian: Call It The Walker Bottleneck - George Mitchell - Feb 19th, 2018
- The Contrarian: Ending Freeway Project Is Historic Blunder - George Mitchell - Nov 6th, 2017
- Streetsblog: The Man Who Beat the Highway Lobby - Angie Schmitt - Oct 13th, 2017
- The Contrarian: I-94 Cancellation Has Huge Impact - George Mitchell - Oct 6th, 2017
- Three Environmental Justice Groups Ask Court to Block I-94 Expansion - American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin - Mar 2nd, 2017
- Community Forum Urges WISDOT to Scrap I-94 Expansion - Coalition for More Responsible Transportation - Mar 31st, 2016
- With I-94 Decision Pending, State & Local Leaders Oppose Wasteful Expansion, Call for Smarter Local Investments - Coalition for More Responsible Transportation - Dec 9th, 2015
Read more about I-94 East-West Expansion here