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In Milwaukee Buzz

Zoo Interchange moves to faster track


Someone told citizen activist Gretchen Schuldt that something is happening at the zoo. And she almost can't believe it's true.

Yet the Story Hill neighborhood resident and long-time member of the Citizens Allied for Sane Highways said she had to believe it when she heard Gov. Jim Doyle himself talk about pushing a proposed rebuild of the Zoo Interchange -- an idea also promoted in recent years by Waukesha County legislators.

Doyle said the move would "boost the economy of the entire region" last week at a news conference at the Watertown Plank Road park-and-ride lot. It was greeted favorably by GOP legislators from west of Milwaukee County as well as the business leaders who have located or plan to locate at the Milwaukee County Research Park and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center. Doyle said construction would start by 2012, four years earlier than the project was originally slated to begin.

"This connection plays a key role in moving commuters, retail customers, health care patients, all types of freight and many other types of traffic," state Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi said in a press release. "We've done a good job of maintaining the interchange, but now is the time to take the next steps to determine how the interchange can best be rebuilt to serve the community and economy well into the future."

Schuldt figures once the Zoo Interchange is reworked, it won't be long until the freeway from there to the Marquette Interchange will be widened, a project she and her neighbors fear will cause great damage to their neighborhood just north of Miller Park.

She criticizes local governments for allowing the land around the interchange to become so populated with businesses, while also saying the businesses have some responsibility for the congestion. "If these businesses want the freeway engineered early, they ought to be willing to dig into their pockets for it," she said.

Chris Klein, executive assistant for the state Department of Transportation, said today that private businesses have made contributions to state highway projects in the past but it is rarely done or encouraged.

"There is nothing in state statutes that would disallow it," he said. "But from our perspective, there are about 330,000 vehicles that travel through that interchange every day and they are not all going to those nearby businesses. That interchange moves commuters, retail business traffic, and all sorts of freight. So it is perfectly acceptable for the state to pay for the work and most agree the state should pay for it."

The project was not supposed to be started until after the estimated $1 billion rebuild of the stretch of Interstate 94 from the state line to the Mitchell Interchange was completed. So the Zoo project looked to be put off at least until about 2015, with the corridor widening following even after that.

Schuldt hopes the project won't mean widening the east-west corridor, as was also recommended a few years ago by an advisory committee comprised of leaders from through the seven counties of southeastern Wisconsin. "I think they just might do the Zoo and leave the corridor pretty much where it is," she said. Schuldt bases that on the fact that the new plan has been somewhat down-sized from the original rebuild configuration.

She also maintains that the project could draw opposition for its larger-than-expected cost and from legislators from outside the region who might see that as one southeastern Wisconsin project too many for them to support.

The project was originally estimated to cost about $1.1 billion. But Schuldt figures those costs to be more like $2.6 billion once the work begins.

Doyle announced that he would seek about $28 million in the 2007-08 biennial budget to begin preliminary engineering for the work, at the intersections of I-94, I-894, and Highway 45. Final design and real estate acquisitions would happen in 2009-2011 with construction slated for 2012.

But Doyle has transferred funds from the transportation budget to help pay for educational costs, and many legislators believe the fund's resources are trailing far behind what will be needed to keep up with the current schedule of statewide highway projects.

Talkbacks

OMCreader | Oct. 25, 2006 at 10:25 p.m. (report)

Master C said: Rebuild it, widen 94 between the zoo and the Marquette, and tell Gretchen to be quiet. Her neigborhood probably won't even be touched by an expanded freeway...but this isn't really about displacing people, it's about some people's disdain for cars and the freedom it gives people, emissions, oil use and all. If you want to live someplace without cars, move to Mackinac Island.

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OMCreader | Oct. 4, 2006 at 1:55 p.m. (report)

Jon D. said: Thomas, I think you are misinterpreting what I'm suggesting. If you've ever driven to O'Hare Airport, at the Junction of the Tri State Tollway (I-294), Kennedy Expressway and Northwest Tollway (I-90) there is a right hand exit (excuse me: interchange) lane that services both east and west directions of I-90. Essentially the interchange ramp has a second off ramp for the westbound traffic then passes over the highway before it joins the eastbound lane. This is what they should do with the Zoo interchange. I still stand by eliminating the on/off ramps at 84th & 108th Streets, Greenfield Avenue and Blue Mound Road to reduce the presence of cars entering traffic at 20 mph. At the very least make these partial on/off exits entering and exiting away from the Zoo Interchange. Don't worry, there is still plenty more places to get on the highway.

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OMCreader | Oct. 3, 2006 at 8:34 a.m. (report)

bob said: I defer you to my original comment: you don't know what you're talking about.

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OMCreader | Oct. 2, 2006 at 3:22 p.m. (report)

Thomas said: To bob: I'm not sure you understand the concept of exits and entrances. If I'm heading from Chicago to Minneapolis on 94 West...I don't "exit" the freeway at the Marquette Interchange. I remain on 94 West the entire time...94 West is the through traffic lane. Yes, the new plan puts the 94 West lane along the right side of the freeway, but it isn't because 43 North is the "through" lane while 94 West is the "exit" lane. More traffic moves along the 94 West corridor than the 43 North corridor. The 94 West lanes are along the right side of the freeway to provide a shallower curve and longer sight lines, not because people expect to exit on the right.

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OMCreader | Oct. 2, 2006 at 11:38 a.m. (report)

bob said: The Marquette Interchange is being designed so that all exiting traffic is on the right and all through traffic is on the left, this includes the actual interchange. For instance if I'm traveling north on 43 towards downtown and I want to go west on 94 the exit/connecting ramp will be on the right. Currently, the Zoo interchange has left hand exits in all directions.

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