Jeramey Jannene
Transportation

State Delaying Interstate 94 Expansion For New Study

Project opponents applaud the move.

By - Apr 15th, 2021 04:51 pm
I-94 Expansion. Rendering from WisDOT.

I-94 Expansion. Rendering from WisDOT.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) announced Thursday afternoon that it will conduct a supplemental environmental review on its proposed Interstate 94 expansion in order to accept more public input and update traffic data.

The change will delay approval of the project to late 2022 at the earliest according to state officials.

A coalition of opponents of the more than $1 billion project, which would add a lane in each direction from N. 16th St. to N. 70th St., have been pushing for a new environmental study that would allow consideration of other options. Last Friday they met with Federal Highway Administration administrator Stephanie Pollack.

The state was previously pushing to reuse a 946-page environmental impact statement that was completed in 2016. Governor Scott Walker pulled the plug on the highway project in 2017 after the state Legislature didn’t fund it. But Governor Tony Evers has sought to fast-track the reactivation of the highway expansion by getting the initial EIS re-approved. The FHWA rescinded its approval of the initial EIS in 2017.

The environmental impact statement is a required document to access federal funding. The last formal public hearings for the current EIS were conducted in 2014.

“We believe the ongoing EIS process has progressed far enough for WisDOT to undertake a supplemental EIS for the I-94 East/West project,” said WisDOT Secretary-designee Craig Thompson in a statement. “This will allow us time to better assess the changes in traffic patterns resulting from the pandemic, and to receive more public input. It will also help us make certain that our efforts to ensure racial equity with this project are comprehensive and aligned with federal priorities.”

“Doing nothing about this portion of road is not an option,” said Thompson. “This aging stretch of highway is one of the most dangerous roads in the state.

Project opponents have called for the highway to rebuilt with safety improvements, but no expansion.

“Among other procedural and substantive shortcomings, the initial EIS failed to conduct a meaningful, legally required environmental justice analysis, and used outdated traffic projections from 2009 that no longer reflect current commuting behavior,” wrote 30 project opponents in a March 16th letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The newly-installed secretary paused a controversial Houston highway expansion to allow a review of civil rights concerns, spurring hope that similar action could occur elsewhere in the country.

On Thursday they applauded the state’s announcement. “The additional input will provide critically needed input for state and federal transportation officials to seriously and meaningfully address environmental justice problems that have repeatedly been raised,” wrote the coalition in a statement.

“We’re happy to see this development and the recognition by WisDOT that the public needs to have a key role in this progress and that the old EIS is out-of-date,” said Sierra Club Wisconsin director Elizabeth Ward. “This is an opportunity to for WisDOT to get aligned with the leadership the Biden Administration has demonstrated on recognizing the impacts of highway expansions on communities of color and climate change. We look forward to working with WisDOT to make sure these things are fully analyzed and taken into consideration throughout the process.”

The signers of the March letter include representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of WisconsinMilwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), Sierra ClubWisconsin Latino Chamber of CommerceWisconsin EnvironmentWisconsin Faith Voices for Justice and the Wisconsin Bike Fed.

Attorney Dennis Grzezinski is one of the co-signers that was scheduled to meet with Pollack. He has already sued over the project once, before Walker abandoned it.

On behalf of MICAH and the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Grezinski filed a successful suit that required WisDOT 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.

“This is an appropriate and needed addition to the review process,” said Mayor Tom Barrett in a statement. “I want a full assessment of the impacts on the people of Milwaukee, including a review of the disproportionate negative effects on people who, historically, have been left out of the decision making process.”

The City of Milwaukee is formally in opposition to the expansion portion of the project, but a resolution renew that opposition is currently on hold within the Common Council.

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

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One thought on “Transportation: State Delaying Interstate 94 Expansion For New Study”

  1. Edward Susterich says:

    If you haven’t seen John Norquist’s commentary, it’s worth your effort–

    (See link above.)

    Op Ed: Evers Is Wrong on I-94 Expansion – John Norquist – Mar 16th, 2021

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