Coalition for More Responsible Transportation
Press Release

Statewide Coalition, Officials Call for Responsible Transportation Budget, Oppose I-94 Expansion

Ahead of Budget Vote, Coalition Calls for Local Infrastructure Fixes, Not I-94 Boondoggle

By - Jun 15th, 2015 02:02 pm
Road Closed

Road Closed

MILWAUKEE — A statewide coalition of 25 groups is calling for a responsible transportation budget that cuts waste on questionable highway expansions as the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee prepares to present a transportation budget deal this week. At a Monday press conference, the Coalition for More Responsible Transportation (CMRT) advocated instead for investment in infrastructure maintenance and more cost-effective local options, including better public transit. The groups highlighted the proposed expansion of I-94 between 16th and 70th Streets in Milwaukee as a boondoggle that, if given the go-ahead by state leaders, would drive up debt and divert resources away from much-needed local infrastructure improvements.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is proposing to unnecessarily add lanes to a 3.5-mile stretch of I-94, at an expected cost of $850 million. WisDOT has projected strong increases in traffic along I-94 to justify this highway expansion, but recent traffic trends make these projections unlikely to materialize.

Statements from coalition members on I-94 and the state transportation budget:

“Our problems can’t be fixed simply by borrowing or raising more revenue for transportation — we have to fix our spending priorities,” said Peter Skopec, WISPIRG Director. “The choice before state leaders is clear: Do we continue to spend billions of dollars on questionable highway expansion projects, above and beyond the cost of simply repairing these highways, and leave local infrastructure to crumble? Or do we choose to live within our means and make sure that our transportation dollars are spent in ways that actually benefit communities across Wisconsin?”

“Wisconsin needs a responsible transportation budget,” said Elizabeth Ward, Sierra Club John Muir Chapter. “We should be sure to invest our limited transportation funds in the most critical priorities while looking for savings wherever possible. And we have to take a particularly hard look at multibillion-dollar investments in major highway expansion projects, especially since Wisconsinites are driving less.”

“We need to recognize the economic impact of having good transportation connectivity options throughout the Milwaukee Metro area, one that connects workers and shoppers from Milwaukee to retail and employment destinations in Wauwatosa, such as the Regional Medical Center and Mayfair Mall,” said Jeff Roznowski, Alderman for Wauwatosa’s 6th District. “I call on the Wisconsin DOT and our state legislators to have a serious conversation on transportation planning, transportation costs, and transportation funding — one that incorporates the same level of fiscal responsibility used to drive other policy and budget decisions.”

“We know that people of color and people with disabilities are much more likely to depend on public transportation to get to work, school, and medical care,” said Karyn Rotker, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of Wisconsin. “We need a plan that meaningfully addresses the needs of those communities, not one that just spends hundreds of millions of dollars to build bigger highways.”

“Transportation options affect everyone’s health — for better or worse,” said Jeanne Hewitt, Associate Professor and Community Outreach Director of UW-M’s Children’s Environmental Health Sciences Core Center. “Expansion of highways and increased number of lanes encourage reliance on cars, which pollute air and water. The resulting air pollution increases the severity of asthma, as well as causes increased rates of heart attacks, strokes and preterm birth — all with devastating results.”

“Highway spending has increased at the cost of local roads. The state has been dramatically increasing spending on highway expansion by taking away the reimbursements that had been promised to communities for local road repair,” said Steve Hiniker, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. “Every journey begins and ends on a local road. We need to make sure that those roads are safe, and a responsible transportation budget makes the investments needed to improve local transportation needs.”

Only weeks ago, a Federal Court ruled that Wisconsin would receive no federal funding to expand Highway 23 between Fond du Lac and Plymouth because WisDOT had used inaccurate traffic projections to justify that $146 million expansion.

The Department of Transportation has not seriously considered a less costly alternative that would repair I-94 without adding lanes, or the creation of a transit route. As a result, the current project plan fails to address fundamental needs in communities across Milwaukee County, including a failure to connect more of the region’s workers to jobs and services or to maintain full access to businesses along the Interstate.

A recent report by WISPIRG, Sierra Club and 1000 Friends found that by scaling back four questionable highway expansion projects, the state could save taxpayers nearly $500 million in the coming biennium. That report recommended using these savings to reduce the state’s reliance on bonding and to reinvest in local priorities like road repair, transit and bike/pedestrian infrastructure. The report also urged the legislature not to enumerate the $850 million expansion of I-94.

The Coalition for More Responsible Transportation (CMRT) is composed of faith-based, public interest, social justice, public health, environmental and transportation advocacy groups, as well as of hundreds of concerned citizens from Milwaukee and beyond. With spending on big-ticket highway expansions skyrocketing statewide at the expense of local infrastructure investments — and increasingly financed by heavy borrowing — CMRT is calling for more responsible, cost-effective transportation spending that better meets local needs.

More about the I-94 East-West Expansion

Read more about I-94 East-West Expansion here

Recent Press Releases by Coalition for More Responsible Transportation

Coalition for More Responsible Transportation Members Applaud Gov. Evers’ Proposed Transportation Budget

Groups support transit, road maintenance increase and focus on fixing instead of expanding highways

Coalition Applauds Gov. Walker’s Suggestion to Rethink Highway Expansions

"Governor Walker is absolutely right: Spending billions on bigger, wider roads is not a smart use of taxpayer dollars."

Community Forum Urges WISDOT to Scrap I-94 Expansion

Community Members & Elected Officials Call for Smarter Transportation Investments

13 thoughts on “Statewide Coalition, Officials Call for Responsible Transportation Budget, Oppose I-94 Expansion”

  1. AG says:

    Except in this case the service levels of the I-94 east/west corridor are already horrible. We don’t need an increase in traffic to be beyond capacity. It has already happened.

    The cost of adding a lane, especially since they’re not doing the double decker option, is small compared to adding some sort of east-west mass transit option. And those who fear that increased capacity will eventually create more traffic and westward sprawl, I hate to inform you that building mass transit would do the exact same thing.

    (See, i didn’t even mention the flawed study that talk about the decrease in traffic levels!)

  2. PMD says:

    If expanding I-94 isn’t going to reduce traffic, why do it? To improve safety?

  3. RTS says:

    I see AG fails to understand that $850million is not a “small cost”. The WisDOT has used the same faulty math on this project as they did on Hwy 23. Until they can prove they’re projections this project should remain on hold.

  4. Kyle says:

    RTS, should the streetcar have to prove they are projections before it can be buit? What would you even consider as proof? Isn’t the big knock on Republicans that they don’t trust the information given to them by experts (climate change, common core, etc.). Is that the information model you really want to tie yourself to?

  5. PMD says:

    Surely WisDOT has vast resources including access to a time machine.

  6. AG says:

    RTS, $850 million is not the cost to add a lane, that’s the cost of the entire project which is being done to 1. replace the crumbling/aged infrastructure and 2. create a safer highway.

    Only a small fraction of that is going towards adding a lane.

    PMD, yes that is quite a conundrum isn’t it? However short and medium term it will decrease traffic flow. It’s only after many years of new sprawl that the congestion level returns (unless there’s over crowding on other streets that shifts to the new highway).

    That being said, if this coalition is correct and their projection is more accurate, then this would be a wonderful solution that will not become congested for a long long time. I’m excited at the prospect!

    Most importantly, since we’re already past the designed capacity, it doesn’t matter what the projections are because it needs expansion now. (Unlike some of the other highway expansion projects in the state)

  7. AG says:

    When I said traffic flow, I meant congestion.

  8. PMD says:

    “However short and medium term it will decrease traffic flow. It’s only after many years of new sprawl that the congestion level returns”

    Is that what WisDOT claims? How do we know that? I know the 2009 induced demand study by two economists states that if you expand your road capacity by 10% over 10 years, you’ll increase the amount of driving by 10%.

  9. AG says:

    I’ve seen predictions all over the map on how long it will take, and you’ll see them change based on the situation. But basically every city tends to find an equilibrium point regarding commuting times that vary based on a lot of factors such as population, density, size, highway and local road capacity, terrain, and more.

    If Milwaukee’s current equilibrium is 17 min average commute time (it’s something like that) and the expansion lowers east-west commutes by 4 minutes to be below the equilibrium, then people using alternate routes will be the first to fill the excess capacity (if there is any). So this couple be people taking 894, or Fon Du Lac ave, whatever. After that, if there is still more capacity, you may find more people willing to build a new house in the exurbs b/c the commute isn’t bad.

    The same thing happens if you build mass transit that follows an already existing commuting path (in this case, western suburbs to downtown and vise verse). Most of the immediate impact you’ll see is in shifting of traffic patterns.

    That being said, you’re still relieving congestion and congestion costs money and costs lives and it helps spread and reduce the risk as a whole system. One additional downside though is that you can pull some street level traffic that oculd be good for retail/commerce and other advantages at a neighborhood level… although right now in Milwaukee I think many of those streets are over capacity at this time (ever try driving on FDL or Lisbon during rush hour??).

    Anyway, my point is that we’re already over capacity and not just on east-west 94. This isn’t like a rural highway that MIGHT hit congestion numbers later… we’re already there now. To save money and lives, the costs for this project to add 1 more lane are not substantial enough to avoid the advantages in my opinion. If they tried adding 3 more lanes in each direction, I may change my stance.

  10. Kyle says:

    “Finally, businesses that rely on roads will swoop into cities with many of them, bringing trucking and shipments.”

    I’m not sure this line of logic is going to dissuade any of the supporters of road expansion. Also, while I realize that many people here think the concept of anyone chosing to move west of 124th is horrific, it shouldn’t be the state’s job to encourage people to stay in Milwaukee. If the biggest downside to fixing our roads is that people can live where they want to live, then most people will be able to live with that.

  11. PMD says:

    But what happens if it’s over capacity 5 or 10 years after expansion? Will WisDOT be calling for another expansion? If the induced demand argument holds water, won’t that be the case? I don’t like traffic any more than the next guy but I don’t think the possibility of shaving 4 minutes off the average commute is enough of a reason.

  12. AG says:

    PMD it’s not literally a 4 minute savings… that’s statistically speaking the mean commute is shortened by 4 minutes but in reality it may mean fewer times in the day that anyone deals with congestion and/or when they do it won’t be as severe. It doesn’t mean that automatically you’ll just shave off a mere 4 min from your commute.

  13. PMD says:

    But what happens if it’s over capacity 5 or 10 years after expansion? Will WisDOT be calling for another expansion? If the induced demand argument holds water, won’t that be the case?

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