MILWAUKEE — The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has decided to spend an additional year reviewing the controversial I-94 expansion in Milwaukee.
WisDOT said in a statement they expect the $1 billion project to be approved in late 2022. Wisconsin officials earlier said they expected the plan to be approved by the end of 2021, our partners at the Milwaukee Business Journal report.
The I-94 East/West Corridor project aims to rebuild much of the interstate between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges. Supporters of the plan argue upgrades are in need, citing the high number of accidents along the 60-year-old stretch of highway.
But the proposal has been criticized. Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman argued in February that construction isn't needed because drivers aren't out on the road as much as they used to be. He drafted a resolution calling on the federal government to reject the state's request to modernize the interstate.
In a statement Thursday, WisDOT Secretary designee Craig Thompson said the review will consist of studying traffic levels and collecting public input.
“This will allow us time to better assess the changes in traffic patterns resulting from the pandemic, and to receive more public input. It will also help us make certain that our efforts to ensure racial equity with this project are comprehensive and aligned with federal priorities,” he said.
Thompson said that his department decided to enact the additional review, not the federal government. The Federal Highway Administration must approve the final project plan.
"The supplemental process allows us to add to more than 100 meetings we’ve already conducted and will include additional input from local community members, businesses and other stakeholders. WisDOT is committed to an open and transparent process that improves mobility for everyone and minimizes any negative impact on the community," Thompson said.
Last March, about 30 organizations wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asking for a review of the I-94 project. They argued the project used outdated traffic data and that spending money to upgrade the freeway without improving public transit would not help minority communities where car ownership is less prevalent, the BizJournal reports.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett issued the following statement:
“Secretary-designee Thompson and Governor Evers have taken a thoughtful step. This is an appropriate and needed addition to the review process. I want a full assessment of the impacts on the people of Milwaukee, including a review of the disproportionate negative effects on people who, historically, have been left out of the decision making process. I am optimistic the serious issues that have been raised will be addressed.”