In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett are brawling in the press over a proposed highway project — a fight that exemplifies the enormous rift in America about what transportation policy should accomplish.
Walker still thinks about transportation projects the same way the interstate planners of the 1950s thought about them. In his view, the economy depends on moving cars and trucks.
So naturally, Walker insists on plowing a $1.2 billion expansion of Interstate 94 through Milwaukee. Among the options on the table is a proposal to double-deck a portion of the highway through a densely populated neighborhood. According to Walker and the state DOT, spending a ton of money to stack highway lanes on top of highway lanes is a practical solution to aid the economy in this barely growing metro area.
“I think the last thing you want to do is have employers look to go bypass the city of Milwaukee when they’re talking about jobs and commerce here,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “So you’ve got to make sure there’s a good transportation system.”
One person who disagrees vehemently is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. In this case, Barrett represents a very different school of thought about transportation and planning — he thinks investing in places, not traffic movement, will make his city better off.
Barrett told the Journal Sentinel that he’s “mystified” by Walker’s refusal to pull the double-decker option off the table. He said he would do everything in his power to stop the additional highway deck, which would have a “negative impact on property values and disrupt the lives” of residents of the Story Hill neighborhood.
Admittedly, there’s more going on here than contentious views about transportation. Walker and Barrett are political rivals who’ve faced off twice for the governor’s chair. But in many ways they embody the broader debate about American transportation policy — the tug of war between the Eisenhower-era mentality of moving traffic at all costs, and the seemingly ascendant notion that public wellbeing depends on transportation decisions that make places healthy and economically strong.