Jeramey Jannene

Freeway Expansion Opponents To Meet With Biden Administration

Biden and Buttigieg might be more willing than Evers to halt project.

By - Apr 8th, 2021 06:05 pm
I-94 Expansion. Rendering from WisDOT.

I-94 Expansion. Rendering from WisDOT.

While Democratic Governor Tony Evers‘ administration is pushing full-speed ahead on widening Interstate 94 in Milwaukee, Democratic President Joe Biden‘s administration is signaling it might go in another direction.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), paused a controversial Houston highway expansion to allow a review of civil rights concerns.

The Wisconsin proposal, estimated to cost more than $1 billion, relies heavily on federal funds. It also needs a federal determination that an earlier environmental analysis, completed before then-Governor Scott Walker pulled the plug on the project in 2017, is still valid.

Opponents of the expansion, which would add a lane in each direction from N. 16th St. to N. 70th St., are pushing for a new environmental study that would allow consideration of other options.

In a March 16th letter to Buttigieg, a group of faith leaders, civil rights organizations, environmental groups, and public interest advocates are asking for the review process to be restarted. They want to see the highway repaired, but funds for expansion redirected towards mass transit.

They’ll get to make their case on Friday. The group will meet with Stephanie Pollack, acting FHWA administrator.

“Among other procedural and substantive shortcomings, the initial [environmental impact statement] failed to conduct a meaningful, legally required environmental justice analysis, and used outdated traffic projections from 2009 that no longer reflect current commuting behavior,” wrote the 30 co-signers.

The signers include representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), Sierra Club, Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce, Wisconsin Environment, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice and the Wisconsin Bike Fed.

They argue investing in the highway over mass transit will disproportionately harm Milwaukeeans of color, that the expansion is a waste of public resources and will increase global warming emissions and that other alternatives are available to aid a recovery from COVID-19. The pandemic and resulting changes in workforce, they argue, could also negate the need for the expansion in the first place.

“Milwaukeeans – and all Americans – deserve a transportation system that works for everyone in their community; that challenges rather than exacerbates long standing racial inequities; and that cuts rather than increases greenhouse gas emissions,” they wrote.

A new study would require a new analysis of alternatives.

The FHWA had approved the Wisconsin Department of Transportation‘s plan in 2016, but rescinded that approval in 2017 after the state Legislature didn’t fund the effort.

Attorney Dennis Grzezinski is one of the co-signers that will meet with Pollack. He has already sued over the project once, a move that came before Walker pulled the plug on funding the effort.

On behalf of MICAH and the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Grezinski filed a successful suit that required the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to contribute $13.5 million to mass transit as part of the $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange project, located just west of today’s widening project.

A copy of the letter sent to Buttigieg is available on Urban Milwaukee.

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