Graham Kilmer

County Committee Backs I-94 ‘Fix at Six’

Resolution next goes to full county board. MICAH leader warns the state could be sued.

By - Nov 30th, 2022 09:55 pm
Diverging diamond design for Stadium Interchange. Image from I-94 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

Diverging diamond design for Stadium Interchange. Image from I-94 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

A committee of the Milwaukee County Board approved a resolution Tuesday opposing the planned expansion of Interstate 94 between 70th and 16th streets and advocating for the “Fix at Six” proposal that calls for making fixes to the freeway without expanding it.

The resolution was authored by Sup. Peter Burgelis. “The most important piece of this I-94 project is that the freeway needs to be redesigned,” Burgelis told his colleagues on the board’s Committee on Transportation and Transit.

Burgelis, and most of the members of the public that offered comment at the meeting, argued that widening the interstate would not solve congestion, and that it was not even needed given the current and projected levels of traffic in the corridor. The supervisor and supporters of his resolution also argued that widened roadways do not actually relieve traffic congestion but induce increased use and higher speeds. The safety trouble along this stretch of freeway is a design problem, an example being the left lane off ramps, that expansion isn’t necessary to solve, they argued.

The “Fix at Six” plan for the interstate came from a group of community organizations called the Coalition For More Responsible Transportation. The plan would welcome a rebuilt freeway that improves safety, but not an additional lane. Joyce Ellwanger of Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), which is a member of the coalition, noted that the “Fix at Six” is not the same plan as the six-lane proposal from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). Rather, she said, it’s a different plan that was designed by a transportation planner who formerly worked for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Mark Stout.

WisDOT announced early in November that it planned to move forward with its $1.2 billion expansion of the interstate, which would also include a replacement of the stadium interchange near American Family Field with a diverging diamond design.

“Safety is our agency’s highest priority and doing nothing about this section of I-94 is not an option,” WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said when the agency announced its decision. Brian Bliesner, WisDOT project development chief, represented WisDOT at the county committee and echoed Thompson’s statements about safety. “One of the main reasons we chose the eight lanes is because we think it’s a safer alternative as compared to existing [design] and to the six lanes.” Bliesner said the expanded roadway would make it easier to implement the new “geometric standards” for roadway design.

The interstate expansion project was originally proposed under former Gov. Scott Walker, but shelved for lack of funds. Gov. Tony Evers revived the project in 2020 based on the original plan from 2016. In 2021, WisDOT agreed to conduct a supplemental study. Meanwhile, community groups have pushed for “Fix at Six.”

Donna Brown-Martin, director of the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation, said her department was still reviewing the “pretty lengthy” supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, and was not prepared to take a position on Burgelis’ resolution. She proposed the board wait to consider the resolution until after MCDOT finished reviewing the statement in January.

Burgelis’ resolution would make it the county’s policy to oppose expansion and support “Fix at Six” and the diverging diamond at the Stadium Interchange. It also makes it the county’s official position that it “denounces further State of Wisconsin destruction of Milwaukee County tax base, the displacement of businesses and residences, and the expansion of unsightly, noisy, and pollutive highways that do not pay property taxes and reduce surrounding property values.”

Bliesner told the committee that the plan’s latest design would require the state to demolish one home and six businesses. “And we really tried hard not to take that one,” he said. While WisDOT is set on its plan to expand the interstate to eight lanes, Bliesner said “there’s certainly lots of smaller decisions that will be made over the coming years as we further these designs, and those are all still subject to feedback and revision.”

MICAH has been visiting the areas that will be impacted by the project, going door to door speaking with residents, Ellwanger said. “People living along the three-and-a-half mile segment to be constructed are predominantly people of color and low income,” she said. “You’ve already heard most — many, many — do not own a car and will not benefit at all.”

These people are already “subject to intense noise and air pollution” that will be worsened by the expansion, Ellwanger said. “When we were knocking on doors. It was like you were in the middle of the freeway talking to people on their front porch, and many of them have children.”

Ellwanger said MICAH finds the WisDOT proposals — both eight and six lanes options — to be unjust and unacceptable, and urged the agency to consider the project through a racial equity lens.

And she added this warning: “As in the past, we will consider all the options including a lawsuit if that becomes necessary to make our concerns known.” 

MICAH has experience with lawsuits against WisDOT projects. Along with the Black Health Coalition, it sued the state over the Zoo Interchange project in federal court, with the support of the ACLU and Midwest Environmental Advocates. The case was resolved with a settlement agreement that required the state to provide $13.5 million for public transit in Milwaukee County.

4 thoughts on “Transportation: County Committee Backs I-94 ‘Fix at Six’”

  1. Carolannbrill says:

    Go MICAH…. No more freeway expansion in Milwaukee.

  2. dmkrueger2 says:

    Glad to see someone threaten a lawsuit against someone other than the City of Milwaukee.

  3. CraigR says:

    Keep in mind that both the six and eight lane proposals require demolishing just one house. A good portion of the project (26th to 70th Streets) abuts cemeteries, parking lots and industrial areas. If those that oppose this are only concerned about sprawl, where was the outcry about widening I-43 to Grafton? That’s going to eventually bring more traffic directly into poor neighborhoods than this project will.
    I understand that it’s no treat living next to the interstate. But this construction will provide some much needed sound barriers. If traffic is flowing more fluidly with 8 lanes, the air quality should improve as cars won’t be idling in stopped traffic through this bottleneck at rush hour.

  4. Alan Bartelme says:

    The difference with the I-43 expansion is that almost all of that expansion is occurring in the suburbs (Glendale, River Hills, Fox Point, Mequon, Grafton) – it’s already 6 lanes through Milwaukee. MICAH is going to have less support fighting projects in the suburbs compared to projects in the city.

    I-94 needs to be rebuilt; I don’t think anyone argues that. I want to know if the WI DOT has modeled out how would traffic flow with 6 lanes and all the left-hand ramps removed; would that fix the problem? How much additional traffic will additional lanes bring via induced demand? How were the traffic projections created that support the need for more lanes?
    How will we pay for not only this highway expansion, but also the perpetual repair of more and more highways while gas tax collections remain stagnant due to more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles being bought along with more people working from home and not commuting into the central city every day.

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