Interstate 94 Project Cost Much Higher Than Original Estimate
Both six and eight lane options cost more than $1.2 billion and include similar dramatic overhaul of Stadium Interchange.
The cost of rebuilding 3.5 miles of Interstate 94 has grown significantly since the state first released its plans to rebuild the aging stretch through the middle of Milwaukee County.
Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials presented their latest concepts for the project this week at two public meetings. The lowest-cost option, an update to the existing six-lane configuration, now has a price tag of $1.2 billion if construction were to start today. This is an approximately 44% increase from the original estimate.
The state is still studying two options for reconstructing the freeway, but unlike in 2014 when it was considering eight lanes at grade or on a double-decker alignment, it recently agreed to study six-lane and eight-lane at grade options.
Based on 2019 WisDOT traffic data, the freeway corridor sees between 158,000 and 178,000 vehicles per day. A recent analysis found that traffic volumes have rebounded to similar levels since a pandemic-induced drop occurred. But a traffic volume graph from WisDOT shows that traffic volumes have not increased since 2000, the oldest year in the graph.
Much of the project’s costs are concentrated in the Stadium Interchange, which critics and proponents both agree is the bottleneck under the current freeway configuration. A series of left lane exits and on-ramps cause drivers going different speeds to mix in what is traditionally the fastest-moving lane.
Project proponents are endorsing the new design and expansion as a way to alleviate a traffic bottleneck. Project opponents are recommending the highway be maintained at six lanes and the interchange be scaled down, possibly by turning the Wisconsin Highway 175 freeway spur north of the interchange into a boulevard.
The revised interchange, as proposed by WisDOT, would include a number of new features. The nearby Mitchell Boulevard ramps just west of the interchange would be removed, but a series of access roads and bridges would be merged into the interchange to still accommodate those driving to American Family Field without requiring a substantial reconfiguration of the surface parking lots. The result of which would cause the footprint of the interchange to grow substantially over its current configuration.
The complexity of the interchange would also grow.
Included in the freeway’s design are new connections to the Hank Aaron State Trail which roughly parallels the freeway through the Menomonee Valley. New connections would be established at N. 44th St., S. 64th St. and W. Greves St.
A pro-expansion group known as I-94 East-West Econ Connect is endorsing the revised plan.
“For motorists who have spent hundreds of hours stuck in traffic on the Interstate between 70th Street and 16th Street over the years, rebuilding the corridor without additional capacity only to have the freeway congested on the day of the ribbon-cutting makes no sense,” said group member and Hispanic Collaborative president Nancy Hernandez in a statement. The group is backed by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Near West Side Partners, Menomonee Valley Partners, Waukesha County Business Alliance, NAIOP Wisconsin, Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin and a number of trade unions.
An anti-expansion group, known as Citizens for More Responsible Transportation, proposes to rebuild the freeway under what calls “Fix at Six” and invest in a number of parallel-route alternatives including bus rapid transit, commuter rail, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
After initially trying to get its 2016 eight-lane environmental plan reapproved, WisDOT agreed to conduct a supplemental environmental impact study after expansion opponents challenged that the existing 946-page study was out of date.
The most recent state budget includes $82 million for design and site preparation work related to the project. A portion of that funding is from federal grants. Additional funding would be needed in the 2023-2025 budget.
The freeway opened to traffic in 1961 and 1962. The Zoo and Marquette interchanges, which anchor each end of the freeway corridor, were rebuilt within the past 15 years.
You can view the exhibits shared at the open house meetings via the WisDOT project website.
Current Stadium Interchange
2014 Stadium Interchange Rendering
- Op Ed: Expanded I-94 Will Damage Pigsville - Leland Pan - Jan 10th, 2022
- Transportation: Interstate 94 Project Cost Much Higher Than Original Estimate - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 10th, 2021
- Transportation: Public Input Sought on Controversial Interstate 94 Expansion - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 3rd, 2021
- Op Ed: Did I-94 End Milwaukee’s Population Growth? - David Jasenski - Sep 22nd, 2021
- Transportation: Plan Offers Alternative To Expanded I-94 - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 14th, 2021
- Statement from Mayor Barrett on the New Impact Review for the I-94 Project - Mayor Tom Barrett - Apr 15th, 2021
- Advocates applaud opportunity for public input on I-94 East-West project, but new environmental review process still needed - Press Release - Apr 15th, 2021
- Transportation: State Delaying Interstate 94 Expansion For New Study - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 15th, 2021
- Transportation: Freeway Expansion Opponents To Meet With Biden Administration - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 8th, 2021
- Op Ed: Evers Is Wrong on I-94 Expansion - John Norquist - Mar 16th, 2021
Read more about I-94 East-West Expansion here