Mequon may get more interstate than it expected
Feds calling for full I-43 interchange at Port Washington Road

By Gary Achterberg - News Graphic Staff

Dec. 12, 2013

MEQUON Mequon may get more interstate than it wants as plans begin to solidify for the expansion of Interstate 43.

The Mequon Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution that strongly opposes a new Federal Highway Administration position that calls for a full interchange at Mequon’s southernmost access point to I-43 at Port Washington Road.

There is a partial interchange there now; it provides a southbound onramp toward downtown Milwaukee and a corresponding northbound exit.

While there would be no local money involved, Mequon officials say that the full exit isn’t necessary or wanted – and its estimated $13 million price tag is a waste of tax dollars.

The state Department of Transportation, which is conducting the I-43 expansion study, said in its Interchange Justification Report that traffic counts did not justify a full interchange at the exit, which is just north of the county line. Federal highway officials disagreed.

Council member Andrew Nerbun, discussing the proposed resolution in a public works committee meeting prior to the common council meeting, called the decision “a total bait and switch.”

“They’re trying to jam way too much infrastructure into too small of an area,” he said.

Nerbun and council member Pamela Fuhry-Adams said the full interchange will significantly increase traffic on adjacent city streets and change the character of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Fuhry-Adams said that 60 or so people attended a Nov. 13 community meeting called by the DOT. She said there would have been many more people there if people from an area wider than just a half mile from the proposed project had been notified.

A half to three-quarters attending that meeting said “they would rather have nothing than to have this massive thing in the heart of their neighborhood,” she said.

As council members discussed the proposed resolution in committee Tuesday, they decided it needed to be worded even stronger. The approved version says the city is “in total opposition of a full freeway interchange” at North Port Washington Road. It also says the city favors retaining the current partial interchange.

The resolution authorizes city staff to advocate that position. In addition to discussing the issue with state DOT and federal transportation officials, elected officials including state Rep. Jim Ott, RMequon, and Wisconsin’s congressional delegation may be contacted.

For decades, Mequon was part of the U.S. House district of F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. Recent redrawing of district boundary lines put the city in the district of another longtime member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Tom Petri.

Council member Mark Seider said the I-43 access now at Port Washington Road is “fully functional” and doesn’t need to be upgraded.

Noting the $13 million price tag, he called it “an exorbitant waste of our tax money – and it’s being rammed down our throat.”

While the potential for a full I-43 interchange at Port Washington Road is a relatively new development, city officials have been weighing the need for adding a full interchange at Highland Road. If that exit is built, the city would pay about half the cost.

Mayor Dan Abendroth added that he thought the plans for a full interchange at Port Washington Road are exorbitant.

“We didn’t even ask for this,” he said.