Madison consumer group offers alternative I-94 corridor construction plan
WISPIRG’s plan includes several options

By MATT MASTERSON - Conley News Service

Dec. 7, 2014

A map of WISPIRG’s proposed East-West Corridor “Rehab/Transit” alternative.
Submitted art

MILWAUKEE As public hearings got underway this week for the Interstate 94 East-West Corridor project in Milwaukee, one Madison consumer group has begun pushing its own construction alternative which seeks to enable "21st century mobility" through the area.

WISPIRG  which claims to be an independent voice for consumers  announced Tuesday it is offering the alternate designed by a 25-year transportation planner and New Jersey Department of Transportation veteran, which includes a high-quality rapid-transit system.

This would be more in touch with people’s changing desires to get around using non-driving modes, according to a release from WISPIRG.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation recently released its draft Environmental Impact Statement, which offers four alternatives that would see the 3.5-mile stretch of I-94 between 70th and 16th streets expand to four lanes in both directions.

"What we are offering is more of a concept," WISPIRG Director Bruce Speight said. "We put out a range of options  it could be rapid transit, or it could be light rail or it could be a phased-in option where it starts out as a fixed-route bus, but over time it becomes more of a fixed-route light rail or streetcar or even tram type proposal."

Dr. Mark Stout, the former assistant commissioner for planning and development at the New Jersey DOT, said in doing so, WISDOT is only taking "another big step forward in its drive to widen I-94 in Milwaukee’s east-west corridor."

"They have dismissed, rather peremptorily, other options for Milwaukee’s future," he said in a release. "I want to show that other options are not only feasible, but in fact a better choice for the east-west corridor."

Stout’s system proposes to link the Burleigh and 101st Street park and rides to the downtown Milwaukee Streetcar, the Intermodal Station, and other locations with several cross-town connections through Miller Park.


Examining the options

Michael Pyritz, the DOT’s southeast region communication manager, said he is aware of WISPIRG’s new option, and while the department is moving forward with its examination of the corridor, it is still looking for public input.

He said the roadway, as it currently stands, is failing on both safety and efficiency, and in order to add capacity, an additional lane of traffic in both directions is necessary.

To do that, the DOT has looked at a pair of alternatives for both the east and west legs of the highway.

On the east side, the department has put forth on- and off-alignment alternatives the on-alignment plan would closely follow the footprint of the roadway as it exists, said Pyritz, while the off-alignment option would take some different angles.

But both alternatives bring along some difficulties.

"The on-alignment ... also brings along all the challenges," Pyritz said, "like the crazy 27th Street on- and off-ramp area, which is very hazardous (and) the area around 35th Street being very congested and flowing poorly into the stadium interchange itself."

The off-alignment option, on the other hand, would cost more, require more structures to be built and would require a complete reconstruction of the 27th Street interchange.

On the west side, the DOT has proposed an at-grade alternative, where a fourth lane would be added in each direction, and a double-deck option where four lanes heading one way would be built up above the four lanes in the opposite direction.

Speight said the department of transportation has only offered one real option expanding the highways with multiple ways of doing it, and has failed to examine any other options.

"It is an outrage," he said. "It is their job to actually assess all the alternatives and come up with the best."


Resurface or rebuild?

According to the DEIS, the at-grade option would cost approximately

$125 million, while the double-deck alternate would be between $295 and

$345 million. Both east leg options are expected to cost above $700 million, with a price tag for the entire project estimated between $825 million and $1.2 billion.

Speight didn’t offer concrete numbers, but said similar projects to what he has proposed can cost far less.

WISPIRG claimed the environmental impact statement failed to consider simply repairing the highway without expansion, but Pyritz said the roadway has already been resurfaced recently, and the Federal Highway Administration is not allowing any more cosmetic patch-ups in lieu of a long-term fix.

"The roadway underneath and the structures themselves are at the end of their life usefulness," he said. "We have to go and rebuild, it is just a matter of how we go in and get that rebuilding done."

Pyritz said his department is estimating the construction could begin by 2019. Public meetings on the project were held this week.

Contact Matt Masterson