Evers restarting plans to expand I-94 around Milwaukee

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday that he plans to seek federal approval to restart a long-stalled project to expand a 3.5-mile stretch of Interstate 94 around Milwaukee.

Then-Gov. Scott Walker abandoned the project in 2017 project, when it came with a price tag close to $1 billion. The plans were to expand the east-west corridor from four to eight lanes to ease congestion in a stretch identified as one of the most dangerous in the state. It runs from the Marquette interchange at 16th Street to the Zoo interchange at 70th Street.

“Investing in our infrastructure is critically important for our economy,” Evers said in a statement announcing the plans to restart the project. “Moving forward on the I-94 East-West corridor project will mean between 6,000 and 10,000 good jobs and will ultimately save lives, reduce travel times and help businesses across our state.”

Evers did not give an estimate of how much the project would cost or how it would be funded. His spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking that information. Evers said delaying the project would only increase its cost later, “so getting to work on this project is good common sense.”

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson had advocated for the project when Walker was governor. At that time, Thompson was executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association, a group representing road builders.

Thompson said in a statement Wednesday that rebuilding the 60-year stretch of interstate is not a viable option. The state Transportation Department planned to look at options to rebuild and expand the section that will increase safety and improve travel times, while preserving local historic grave sites and the current number of interchanges.

Thompson said given that work on expanding the Marquette interchange is complete, and the Zoo interchange is nearly done, the stretch of interstate between them has become a bottleneck.

The previous plan to expand the stretch to eight lanes was challenged in a federal lawsuit by civil rights and environmental groups challenging the state’s decision to spend billions of dollars on highway expansion while cutting money for transit services. That case was dismissed after Walker abandoned the highway project three years ago.

The corridor to be rebuilt and expanded has a crash rate two and a half times higher than similar state highways, Evers’ office said. Thompson said improving the section, along which almost half of the state’s exports leave Wisconsin, will make businesses all over the state more competitive.

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