MILWAUKEE - Plans to expand the I-94 East West corridor in Milwaukee could be replaced with a safer option that shifts investments to more pressing transportation needs, according to a new report released Tuesday. Titled “Fix at Six,” the study unveils the Transit/Rehab Alternative, which would better meet the current and future needs of Milwaukeans and Wisconsinites. The report comes out as the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) begins the public input process for a supplemental environmental review of the proposed highway expansion.
Specifically, the Transit/Rehab Alternative would fix the safety and operational concerns of the corridor but, rather than expanding it, it would invest in more pressing transportation needs such as road repair and transit expansion.
Commissioned by a coalition of environmental, faith, justice and transit advocates, the report was prepared by transportation planner and NJDOT veteran Mark Stout. It builds on a previous report written for the coalition in 2014.
“This is a generational investment in Milwaukee’s transportation system,” said Gregg May, transportation policy director at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. “We should be pursuing a future that actually meets the needs of the people near the project corridor. The Transit/Rehab alternative lays out a path forward that is both feasible and reflective of the community’s desire for more walking, biking and transit options.
The case against expanding I-94 is stronger than ever. This expansion will not only both increase vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions, but also promote sprawl development and further damage the social and economic fabric of the neighborhoods it traverses and the health and well being of the residents of those neighborhoods. Nationwide, evidence shows that highway expansion only makes congestion worse, and many cities are rethinking their existing highways.
The alternative presents four elements for creating a collaborative, equitable, sustainable and community-based vision for the East-West corridor:
Repair the road’s pavement and bridges as needed, keeping the current six lanes.
Add a new bus rapid transit (BRT) line along National and Greenfield avenues.
Promote thriving, walkable/bikeable neighborhoods by building bicycle infrastructure near the corridor as listed in the 2010 Milwaukee Bicycle Master Plan. This includes bridges crossing the Valley and turning Wisconsin Highway 175 (Stadium Freeway) into a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly boulevard.
Explore future opportunities to maximize sustainable and equitable alternatives, including north-south BRT routes, commuter rail and better housing and zoning practices including Transit-Oriented Development
"The Fix at Six alternative is an environmentally sustainable and equitable transit plan for the I-94 East-West corridor," said Tony Wilkin Gibart, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates. "As the report outlines, the health and wellbeing of communities surrounding I-94 should be at the center of the state's plans for this area. That means not expanding the footprint of the highway, which would encourage more polluting traffic and, therefore, degrade air quality, exacerbate climate change, and trap more heat in the central part of the city. Prioritizing the health and wellbeing of surrounding communities also means prioritizing public transportation. Rapid transit options would allow community members to easily travel to work and school without dependence on cars and begin to repair the damage to the social and economic fabric of the neighborhoods caused by the existing highway."
Expanding I-94 will also hinder communities by further fraying our waterways, which will both have the added effect of damaging our already crumbling infrastructure and hurting local wildlife.
“Continuing to expand highways increases polluted runoff to our local rivers, which impairs fish and aquatic life and exacerbates flooding for downstream communities. We need to invest more in transit options, fix local roads, dismantle outdated infrastructure that divides our community, and retrofit existing roads with green infrastructure that helps runoff soak in. This is especially important to provide more resiliency to climate change at a time when increasingly volatile and severe wet weather events are becoming the norm versus the exception,” said Cheryl Nenn, riverkeeper for Milwaukee Riverkeeper.
Beyond the tangible impacts, the current I-94 plan is also a misguided use of funds -- at a time when Wisconsin’s state finances are limited.
“Wisconsin continues to spend billions of dollars on highway expansion projects that don’t solve our transportation problems and further exacerbate the climate crisis,” said Megan Severson, Wisconsin Environment state director. “Now is the time to stop building costly highway boondoggles and start investing in fixing our existing roads and providing Wisconsinites with cleaner, healthier transportation choices.”
Advocates believe that the Transit/Rehab Alternative is the right alternative plan at the right time.
“It is clear that there is a better solution for the I-94 corridor in Milwaukee than expanding the highway,” said Cassie Steiner-Bouxa, Sierra Club Wisconsin senior campaign coordinator. “The Fix at Six solution is not only feasible - but it’s better for Milwaukee neighborhoods and for the climate.”
Beyond the four recommendations outlined above, the report also calls for the highway to be scaled to fit into a sustainable metropolitan transportation system and to advance long-term mobility, equity, and accessibility goals. In addition, further development must be planned in a way to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions, remediate the harsh effects of its original construction on racial inequity, minimize polluted runoff to area rivers, and restore wetlands and green space and to revitalize neighborhoods damaged by its original construction.
The report was authored by Mark L. Stout, PhD with the support of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, ACLU of Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Sierra Club-Wisconsin Chapter, Wisconsin Environment, and WISPIRG.
A coalition of organizations, known as the Coalition for More Responsible Transportation (CMRT) has been advocating for more responsible alternatives to expanding the I94 highway. CMRT is composed of faith-based, public interest, social justice, public health, environmental and transportation advocacy groups, as well as of hundreds of concerned residents 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.