Milwaukee Protesters Try to Halt Double-Decker Freeway

Monday night, as the Wisconsin DOT went through the motions of a Power Point presentation about the latest highway expansion it wants to gouge through Milwaukee, a groups of protesters outside the meeting shouted their frustration with an agency that has spent lavishly on roads to the exclusion of all other modes.

The protesters’ message was simple. “Stop the highway.” Instead of sinking a billion dollars into another highway that won’t solve the region’s transportation problems, they called for different options: better transit, walking, and biking connections.

Right now, the state is only thinking about cramming more cars into the Milwaukee transportation network. Wisconsin has settled on two options for the Interstate 94 corridor, and both involved widening 3.5 miles of highway. The first proposal is an eight-lane at-grade freeway. The second and even more ridiculous option is a double-decker freeway. WisDOT put forward this latter design out of a desire to add lanes — to “manage congestion” — without having to actually unearth the graves of veterans in the cemetery surrounding the road.

But the protesters, who represent a coalition of groups from around the state and Milwaukee, reject both of the alternatives. That’s why instead of attending the meeting on Monday, they were outside protesting. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation should go back to the drawing board, said Bruce Speight of the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, one of the organizing groups.

“We don’t need to expand the highway,” he said. “We need to give people real options.”

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is considering building a double-decker freeway in Milwaukee. Image: WISDOT
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation may spend a billion dollars to double-deck a freeway in Milwaukee. Image: WISDOT

Over the last 10 years, Milwaukee transit riders have endured service cuts and fare hikes as budget pressures squeeze their transit agency. Many low-income Milwaukee residents who rely on transit aren’t able to access jobs, said Speight. Meanwhile, the state has been siphoning funds from local road repairs to build ever more extravagant highway projects.

The same coalition, representing racial minorities in Wisconsin, recently settled in court with the state over the $1.7 billion “Zoo Interchange” project, which they alleged was discriminatory. After a judge issued an interim ruling in their favor, the groups agreed to a settlement that awarded $13.5 million in transit funding.

While that was an important win, $13.5 million is peanuts compared to what Wisconsin spends to move people faster in cars. Speight said the DOT’s billion-dollar proposal for I-94 is expected to save the average commuter just four minutes.

“They were talking about the need to probably widen it again in 25 years,” he said. “If we provide more and better options… we’ll actually solve the problem and give the people of Milwaukee better roads and transit options.”

“This is just an unnecessary, misguided, and wasteful project.”

  • Anne A

    As a visitor, I would appreciate better transit, so that car-free visits to the city are more viable. I’d much rather take Amtrak and be able to get around the city easily without the hassles of driving and parking. I would visit Milwaukee more often and spend more money there. A highway won’t make that happen.

  • R.A. Stewart

    “Over the last 10 years, Milwaukee transit riders have endured service cuts and fare hikes as budget pressures squeeze their transit agency. Many low-income Milwaukee residents who rely on transit aren’t able to access jobs, said Speight.”

    I have come to the point of thinking that, to the bunch now running Wisconsin, that is not a bug but a feature.

  • As a visitor and former resident, Milwaukee will be easier to visit once its transit is better, or it gets bike share, OR Amtrak allows bikes on trains without extra fees and a “bike box.”

    As a whole, Wisconsin’s alternate transportation options are so few it’s just *shocking* that young people don’t want to stick around, as you reported before. This is one city that will suffer a lot if (when) gas prices rise sharply.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Part of the mindset of these road building extravaganza’s falls into the “we gotta create jobs” category. These public works programs make the politicians look good.

    However, road building since the Great Depression has always been a make work program. Even after the 2nd world war, when we had to put hundreds of thousands of veterans back to work, we created road jobs.

    Prime example in Wisconsin is they widened US 94 from the State line to north of State Road 50 and made it 10 lanes wide? Don’t know why because I’ve traveled that road many many times it hardly is ever backed up with traffic.

    In 30 years time its gone from 6 lanes to 8 lanes to 10 lanes.

    There’s still plenty of Pork Barrel to go around. And honestly if you increase the gas tax you will just be feeding the pig. Let the Hwy trust fund go bankrupt and have real discussion on roads.

  • Hmmm

    The ramps are not hair raising.

  • Annie F. Adams

    Keep protesting! It already stinks to drive thru this area. More traffic won’t help. & I really like that cemetery. I also would LOVE to be able to take the Amtrak to MKE from Chicago and get around without a car. Driving on 94 is stressful & dangerous.

  • JKR

    This is why we can’t have nice things America.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Freeway Fight: Scott Walker Wants to Drag Milwaukee Back to 1956

|
The mayor and residents of Milwaukee are fighting a massive urban highway project backed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Citing traffic congestion, the state is forging ahead with a $1.2 billion plan to expand Interstate 94. One design under consideration would stack freeway lanes on top of freeway lanes, double-decker style. The state says such […]

Next Boondoggle From Wisconsin DOT: Double-Decking Milwaukee Freeway

|
If it seems like we’ve been singling out Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin DOT a lot lately, that’s because WisDOT is such an excellent example of what a highly dysfunctional state transportation agency looks like. The latest foolishness: a billion-dollar proposal to double-deck part of a Milwaukee freeway. Milwaukee is a city that lost 0.4 percent of […]

Next Boondoggle From Wisconsin DOT: Double-Decking Milwaukee Freeway

|
If it seems like we’ve been singling out Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin DOT a lot lately, that’s because WisDOT is such an excellent example of what a highly dysfunctional state transportation agency looks like. The latest foolishness: a billion-dollar proposal to double-deck part of a Milwaukee freeway. Milwaukee is a city that lost 0.4 percent of […]

Wisconsin Dumps One Urban Highway Boondoggle in Favor of Another

|
One of the nation’s most poorly conceived highway proposals will become slightly less ridiculous. Transportation officials in Wisconsin recently announced they will no longer consider double-decking a portion of Interstate 94 in Milwaukee. The billion-dollar project would have raised the highway to building height in the Story Hill neighborhood. Wisconsin DOT hasn’t seen the light, […]

Wisconsin’s Highway Spending Mania Makes Less Sense Every Day

|
Wisconsin isn’t known as a state that makes smart use of transportation dollars, whether it’s Scott Walker rejecting federal funds for high-speed rail service, denying funds for what would have been Milwaukee’s first suburban commuter rail service, or cutting millions in state aid for transit. Now a new report from the Wisconsin Public Interest Research […]