Earth Day Resolution: Stop Building Projects Like the Zoo Interchange

zoo

Leading up to Earth Day, the New York Times ran an editorial, “Time Is Running Out,” lamenting the lack of urgency in the United States to prevent a very urgent problem: catastrophic climate change. Today, Brad Plumer at Vox explained why it may be too late to keep average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — the threshold that climate scientists have been warning about.

There are many steps we’ll have to take to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But one of them is most definitely this: America has to stop spending billions on projects like Wisconsin’s Zoo Interchange and start getting serious about building places where people can get around by walking, biking, and taking transit.

The Zoo Interchange embodies America’s broken transportation spending system, which former US DOT official Beth Osborne described on Atlantic Cities today as “an entitlement for state departments of transportation to allocate for their own priorities.”

This single highway interchange, aimed at reducing delays for suburban car commuters in the nation’s 30th largest city, costs more than total federal spending on walking and biking annually.

The Zoo Interchange carries 300,000 cars per day. It is “Wisconsin’s oldest and busiest interchange,” according to the state. A big part of Wisconsin DOT’s justification for the Milwaukee interchange is “safety.” According to WisDOT, there were an average of 2.5 collisions a day on the interchange between 2000 and 2005, and nine were fatal.

By comparison, according to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, Americans make about 112 million walking trips daily. About 4,000 pedestrians are killed annually on American roads.

And yet, Wisconsin will spend more on this one sprawl-inducing highway project than the feds spend each year on all walking and biking projects combined.

Clearly, our priorities are out of whack — way out of whack.

Total federal spending for biking and walking amounts to about $2.61 per capita. If the pricetag of the Zoo Interchange were divided by every man, woman, and child in the United States, the cost would be $5.39. It’s important to note that state and local funds will pay for most of this project. Still, our sources tell us that Zoo Interchange planners hope to get 20 percent of the cost from the federal government, or $344 million.

Meanwhile, advocates fought tirelessly to protect $822 million in funding for biking and walking in the last federal transportation bill.

And here’s the sad fact. The Zoo Interchange isn’t all that special. It’s a very expensive interchange, but it belongs to the same club as Louisville’s $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges project or Cleveland’s $300 million Opportunity Corridor. Almost every region of the country has a road project that appears just as dubious.

We won’t succeed in the fight against climate change if we keep throwing billions of dollars down the sinkhole of car dependence and sprawl.

  • Matthew

    I think the overall cost of the Zoo Interchange is understated, as part of the project includes the accusation and demolition of exciting developed land which will erode the local tax base for the entire life of the project.

  • J

    Wow. This is deplorable.

  • neroden

    This one is particularly lunatic, given that there’s still a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the Zoo Interchange plan is discriminatory and violates federal law. (And I tend to believe them; they’ve piled up a mass of evidence of actual animus from the people pushing the Zoo Interchange plan at WisDOT.)

  • Begonia

    Not to defend the gross inequalities of spending on roads versus transit and active transportation, but I have to point out that Milwaukee’s zoo interchange needs to be replaced because it is literally falling apart. In fact, the delays to replacing the interchange have resulted in even higher total costs for the project. Several years ago, WISDOT realized that several bridges in the interchange were structurally unsound, and had to demolish them and rebuild them as temporary bridges because they hadn’t yet completed the preliminary engineering. Talk about a waste of money–if the project hadn’t been delayed, that wouldn’t have needed to happen.

    So. We need to replace these old interchanges that are falling apart in both Milwaukee and elsewhere. That is certain. In my opinion we transit/bike/ped advocates would be much more effective if we took a different approach. Rather than obstructing these projects that have to be done, we should be working our tails off to make sure that when these interchanges are re-done, they re-knit back neighborhoods, they include lanes and stops for express transit, and they are as pedestrian/bike friendly as they can possibly be. (The zoo interchange reconstruction, by the way, also includes a final
    piece of bikeway that connects to the Hank Aaron state trail. Hat tip to the Wisconsin Bike Fed for making sure that happened.)

    In my opinion, the real crime of the zoo interchange reconstruction is not the interchange itself. It’s the widening that was done on highway 100 (an already wide surface street with poor development patterns) to the north and south of the interchange.

  • thinkclearly68

    wow. You whackos won’t be happy until we are walking everywhere. News flash: NOT POSSIBLE!!!

  • Bolwerk

    Not with garbage like interchange blocking everything.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    What would happen if we didn’t?

    Like just demolish 684 and let 94 go straight through.* How is this money not better spent on something useful like Pre-K, or for the small government people, just write a check for $850 to each of the 2 million people in the Milwaukee Metro area.

    *I am aware this would still cost some money, not even close to as much, and you would save on maintenance and future building so let’s call it a wash.

  • Big Al

    Agreed – the Zoo Interchange needs to be rebuilt, and I’m fine w/ redoing the entrance/exit ramps to current standards. However, it does not need to be widened for 4 lanes east/west. And the current nutjob plan from WisDOT to double-deck 94 east of the interchange to accommodate the 4th lane is a complete waste – sorry, if you made the choice to live in Brookfield/Waukesha and work downtown, then you also made the choice to make the commute in. Don’t like the drive times – move closer.

  • G1991

    We did it for tens of thousands of years and did it traveling across entire continents. Asking to just walk and bike within the city and its surrounding neighborhoods shouldn’t be a challenge. If we implement more rapid transit, change the code, and change the way our cities are built from a sprawling manner to a more dense one, it would be completely possible.

  • Charles

    Wow. You wackos won’t be happy until we are driving everywhere. News flash: NOT POSSIBLE!!!

  • “Wow, thoughtful discussion about things I disagree with. Nah, lets call them names.” You are the problem we’re fighting. Hows the sand taste?

  • douglasawillinger

    If such interchanges are to be rebuilt they should do it Hollywood, Florida scaled traffic circle- park “Alexandria Orb” style- see the blog “A Trip within The Beltway”

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