Tuesday, March 23, 2021

USDOT's urbanist Mayor Pete should nix I-94 widening through Milwaukee

You have have read that despite it being too expensive for Scott Walker - and also a looming setback for environmental justice across the west side of Milwaukee - the Evers administration has revived a billion-dollar plan to shoe-horn two more lanes onto the I-94 corridor between the Marquette Interchange and 70th St.

While transit in Wisconsin is continually short-changed, and bridges and roads go un-repaired.

And while no one knows if pre-COVID traffic volumes will increase.

I've posted - for years - information about our expensive and misnamed 'freeway' system - here, for example - and said this in July when Team Evers began embracing the West side expansion:

There is no constituency or true priority for, and zero fit with environmental justice and climate science facts and agendas to justify rebooting the Story Hill-area I-94 expansion which even road-building-boosting Walker had abandoned.

Why are we still dreaming about adding expensive 'freeway' [sic] lanes while the potholes ('Scottholes') and crumbled pavement statewide which helped drive Walker out of office remain unrepaired?

More recently, former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist recently wrote extensively about it for Urban Milwaukee:

Evers Is Wrong on I-94 Expansion

...WisDOT and the Highway Lobby have never let up. They keep pushing to widen the freeways already built. They’ve included the I-94 widening in the state budget despite the elected officials that represent the people in the corridor opposing it. US Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) opposes it. Both aldermen Bob Bauman and Michael Murphy oppose it. State Reps Daniel Riemer and Evan Goyke oppose it. Regardless of the opposition of these locally elected officials, WisDOT is trying to get the Federal Highway Administration to break past precedent and go along with using a 5 year old Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to speed up a project that Milwaukee isn’t asking for. In a recent phone conversation Mayor Tom Barrett indicated that Governor Tony Evers gave him no heads up before including the I-94 project in his state budget. 

So I was interested see this piece posted today by CNN which draws attention to the more progressive urbanist views of newly-confirmed US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; perhaps a new Secretary serving an Amtrak booster in the White House might prevent Wisconsin from yet another widening of Interstate Highway lanes 


that were supposed to connect cities, not bisect and devalue them:

Secretary Pete, going 'big' on road projects won't fix America's cities. This is what will.

While the theme coming from Secretary Buttigieg seems to be "go big," the projects most likely to meet all of the administration's goals will need to be small, incremental and city-focused. They would repair damage from past grand initiatives instead of launching new ones....

For small and mid-sized cities, the administration need only look to Buttigieg's hometown of South Bend where, as mayor, the secretary dramatically changed the city's approach to transportation and community investment.
Focusing on the struggling downtown, Mayor Pete made investments to shift traffic patterns from high-speed, one-way corridors to two-way streets with much slower speeds. This shift in emphasis allowed public biking and walking projects to pay off through increased private investment. As a result, South Bend has significantly grown housing, jobs, businesses and its overall tax base while improving safety and reducing its long-term liabilities.
    Much of this renaissance happened by fixing highway corridors built decades ago through the center of the city. Those highways did great damage to South Bend's economy while denuding the community's wealth. Today, they present the greatest opportunity for revitalization. 

    There are many American cities with the same challenge. Federal leadership and resources can shift state departments of transportation to support efforts to undo the damage of past highway building, restoring local communities and reducing long-term maintenance costs in the process.

    I'm happy to see intelligent, non-partisan commentary coming to the fore. We need to amplify it, stop making the same mistakes over and over again and match policy and spending with more care for people, clean air and the environment.

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