Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Barnes, Nelson Argue Over I-94 Expansion

Could it be an issue in Democratic primary for U.S. Senate?

By - Apr 26th, 2022 03:25 pm
Mandela Barnes and Tom Nelson.

Mandela Barnes and Tom Nelson.

Since Mandela Barnes was first elected to the state Legislature in 2012, he has opposed expanding I-94 from six lanes to eight between 16th and 70th streets in Milwaukee, allied with a coalition calling the project a “billion dollar boondoggle.” As Lieutenant Governor, that has been a rare issue where Barnes disagreed with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has supported freeway expansion.

“I can’t say that I’m the person who’s going to be at the press conference announcing whatever comes as a result if it includes expansion,” Barnes told WUWM-FM (89.7). “I won’t be present for that one.”

And as a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Barnes has made clear he still opposes the project. At a candidate forum in Wisconsin Dells last week, “Barnes challenged his fellow Dem U.S. Senate candidates to go on record over whether they support” the I-94 expansion after he was asked about this by an audience member, as Wispolitics reported.

In response, Outagamie County executive Tom Nelson said “a project like the I-94 expansion has to take into account the legacy of the interstate system. That includes the lack of consideration planners had for interstates running through communities of color. He also bemoaned the demise of a project a dozen years ago to connect Madison and Milwaukee by rail,” the story reported. “Barnes said Nelson didn’t answer the question as the two started going back and forth.”

Ultimately the discussion made clear that Nelson, state treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Milwaukee Bucks vice-president Alex Lasry all believed the state “could look at expanding the interstate to eight lanes from six between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges while also investing in other transportation options” — in clear opposition to Barnes’ position.

As Nelson noted, this is really a state issue. Barnes was asked about it because “He is the lieutenant governor. This is part of your responsibility.”

But certainly a U.S. Senator could use his or her clout to have an influence on the issue. And it can also help to differentiate four Democratic candidates who tend to agree on most policy questions. The freeway issue is a curious one, that cuts in many different ways.

For starters it’s a way for Barnes to dramatize his support for voters of color. Barnes headed up the governor’s 2020 climate change task force report, which highlighted the historically detrimental effects of urban freeways, causing “high exposure to air, water, and noise pollution in these communities, which in turn results in racial health disparities and economic divestment.”

The expansion of I-94 south of Milwaukee to Racine may have created jobs in a place like Pleasant Prairie, Barnes told Politico in a 2015 story, but there was no way for the many constituents in his Assembly district without cars to get to the jobs. “It’s us-against-them politics, man,” Barnes said. “If there’s no way for Blacks to get to your community, they won’t get to your community.”

The coalition of groups opposing expansion have called for an approach to “Fix the Six,” meaning repairs only. They include environmentalists who oppose the freeway expansion as a major contributor to pollution. Cassie Steiner, campaign coordinator with the environmental group Sierra Club of Wisconsin, put it this way to the Up North News: “Seeing this project moved forward by the Evers administration, who has expressed so much concern about this climate crisis, is really disappointing and out of line with the administration’s values.”

Many readers of the Up North News may agree with Barnes, but for a different reason, seeing this as money for Milwaukee, which could mean less state funding for their region. Indeed former Gov. Scott Walker gave up on the freeway expansion project in 2017 after his fellow Republicans in the state Legislature refused to fund it. While business leaders supported the idea as a critical link in the state’s transportation system, Republicans have become increasingly provincial in their views, opposing anything that could be seen as helping Milwaukee.

Barnes has been campaigning in rural parts of the state, as part of his ‘Barnes for Barns” tour, and has argued that voters throughout the state have much in common on the issues. In the case of I-94 expansion he may be right.

6 thoughts on “Back in the News: Barnes, Nelson Argue Over I-94 Expansion”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    I am not a “voter of color”, nor a Democrat, nor a Republican, but I oppose expanding I-94 from six lanes to eight between 16th and 70th streets.

    Scott Walker eliminated Milwaukee’s “residency rule” for city workers. Now all the cops, firefighters, and city workers live in Waukesha County and they’re causing I-94 traffic jams on their way into and out of Milwaukee.

    If it was up to me, I would reduce I-94 from six lanes back to four lanes. Why tear up peaceful neighborhoods in the City of Milwaukee for a bunch of Waukesha County residents who don’t give a damn about people who live in Milwaukee?

    Fifteen years for now they’ll want 10 lanes, then 12 lanes, then 16 lanes… Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.

  2. kaygeeret says:

    A number of studies have been done which show that expanding freeway lanes does NOT reduce traffic backups.

    Yeah, I know that seems counter intuitive, but I am entirely against expanding the freeway. Story Hill is a lovely neighborhood as are others between the stadium and 70th St.

    If you choose to live in the burbs, then you choose extra freeway time to get to work. Your choice and I know that you prioritize your “freedom to choose” above all else.

    Also, there are actually many easy to travel streets that run from the lakefront all the way to Waukesha. So do some investigation.

    No more wider freeways destroying neighborhoods!

  3. MilwMike1 says:

    Not really a Senate issue yet this is helping me decide who I’d like replacing the present uber-partisan Senator who works for Republicans only. The elephant in the room is prejudice something Mandela Barnes fights constantly. I leaned towards Nelson but this bipartisan funded highway lobby must be curtailed and funds need to allocated towards repairs on all our roads so I’m disappointed in his views on expanding to 8. I could never ever vote for someone running for office that does not vote herself so for me Godlewski isn’t on my radar. Lasry says the right things but his Wisconsin ties do not run very deep. The previous poster is correct in that 8 lanes in the future will find the highway lobby asking for 10 or 12 in the future.

  4. Duane says:

    No more milquetoast Democrats. Act like you are in a fight because you are. Not being able to define your position on something as elementary as this is not a good thing. Get a clue Nelson.

  5. gerrybroderick says:

    For me the deciding factor in choosing a Senate candidate can’t hinge on a single issue . While I oppose widening I-94
    I have to consider experience and electability as paramount qualifiers.

    While Lasry and Godlewski command personal fortunes sufficient for the run, their experience in politics is non-existent to scant. In my view that leaves Barnes and Nelson. And from what I know of the Trump supporting outlands, the question: “can a black man be elected to the states highest office?” I would like to think so, but hope at this critical juncture? That could be playing Pollyanna amid a cast of mega- funded Republican cutthroats.

    My heart says “Barnes” and my head “Nelson.” My assessment continues.

  6. CraigR says:

    I can understand some of the arguments surrounding the potential widening of the East-West Freeway. The impact on persons of color is not one of them. This roadway, unlike the North-South Freeway, didn’t and wont remove hundreds of houses and businesses in poor neighborhoods. That is just one of the cookbook responses that opponents use. I’m hoping for a sensitive reconstruction that eliminates the bottlenecks where lanes terminate and the left exits. People of color don’t like being stuck in a traffic jam either and need to get to and from jobs that are lacking in their neighborhoods.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us