By Dennis A. Shook, for   Published Mar 01, 2005 at 5:17 AM

{image1} If you ever entered the old Milwaukee County Stadium via Bluemound Road, you know more about the Story Hill neighborhood than you might have thought.

The neighborhood is that enclave of stately yet unpretentious single-family homes, with the inevitable small but manicured lawns and lannon stone exterior walls.

The neighborhood looks more like a typical area in Elm Grove or River Hills than a neighborhood that is actually bounded by busy Bluemound Road on the north and Interstate 94 on the south -- within walking distance of the stadium's successor, Miller Park.

Yet it is that simple fear of encroaching concrete that has energized this sleepy neighborhood like never before.

When the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Freeway Advisory Committee in the late 1990s began to plan for the widening of the freeway system in the region and in Milwaukee, the Story Hill residents could see what was coming. Leaders from throughout the region pointed to the strip of freeway adjacent to the neighborhood and branded it "a bottleneck,'' as state Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, has come to call it.

When all the planning was finished, the committee recommended a plan that would cost about $6 billion over 30 years to reconstruct 127 miles of freeway throughout the region.

Waukesha County officials and many other on the committee believed the state would quickly take on the six-mile stretch of I-94 from the Marquette east to the Zoo Interchange, which would also be reconstructed right after the Marquette Interchange work was done in 2008.

But a funny thing has happened on the way from the committee table to the planning table. Several months ago, state Department of Transportation secretary Frank Busalacchi announced that the DOT would instead recommend the next project after the Marquette be the 35-mile stretch from the state line to the Mitchell Interchange, including the reconstruction of the interchange and likely widening of the freeway.

At a meeting last week at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Kanavas and Waukesha County executive Dan Finley said they would fight the DOT's decision in the state Legislature. They said the $1 billion Mitchell project would delay the east/west corridor work until 2017 at the earliest, when the section would be 60 years old and crumbling.

And both men and other Zoo-rebuild advocates blamed the delay on the Story Hill neighborhood and its activist anti-freeway expansion group known as CASH -- Citizens Allied for Sane Highways. They said it was clear that Gov. Jim Doyle did not want to battle the group's members, who have raised their voices of protest at every step in the freeway planning process.

Gretchen Schuldt, who co-founded the group with fellow Story Hill resident Bob Trimmier, doesn't mind being blamed for stopping the expansion of the six miles of the east/west corridor from six to eight lanes, which would mean adding a deck onto the current freeway footprint.

She also opposes the other 13 miles of work planned for other parts of the Milwaukee freeway system.

"Our biggest concern is the freeway expansion in the east-west corridor, but CASH is not just about the east/west corridor and the Story Hill neighborhood," she says. "It's the entire city of Milwaukee, because Milwaukee stands to lose so much more -- north on Interstate 43, some work on I-894, US 45 and even some 794 expansion."

Schuldt, a former reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has lived in the neighborhood since 1993. Her new vocation is as a fiscal policy analyst for the Milwaukee Public School System, but her avocation is CASH.

The group has managed to cluster nearly 30 of the city's most prominent and powerful neighborhood groups, which also want to prevent what they see as unnecessary freeway expansion.

"We see 140 houses and 13 businesses lost" by the freeway expansion plans, not to mention the erection of 37 miles of large sound walls next to neighborhoods like Story Hill, Schuldt says. At the Zoo Interchange, that would include the loss of 19 homes and 53 acres of land, she says. She adds that many health organizations have decried increased health hazards from the freeway plans, including polluted groundwater runoff and increases in the number and severity of asthma cases.

Schuldt says the blame rests solidly on the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and private consultants who were involved in the planning work. "SEWRPC's attitude was that what was good for Mequon, Brookfield and Oconomowoc was also good for Milwaukee,'' she says. "But Milwaukee is different than Brookfield...The space is different, the poverty level is different.

"They can't get their heads around this," Schuldt says of SEWRPC. "A new report by the Brookings Institution said Milwaukee has the highest black job spatial mismatch in any metro area in the U.S. Blacks would have to move to have the same access to jobs as white folks do. But the black community in Milwaukee is not wealthy and a significant number don't have cars. So the freeways puts them further away from the jobs because (freeways) drive employers away. Do you believe Waukesha County would be what it is without I-94?"

Schuldt says she will not be able to rest until the advisory committee reforms and reconsiders its recommendations. "When they say, 'Let's start over in Milwaukee,' that's when I will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. We cannot relax as long as they are trying to tear apart Milwaukee neighborhoods."

She says there are some safety concerns on parts of the freeway system that clearly need work and CASH does not oppose that. The group also does not oppose work outside of Milwaukee County.

The group has noticed that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County executive Scott Walker have decided not to push for the east/west work, even though Walker supported it during the regional committee meetings, she says.

If she had the chance to talk to freeway expansion advocates like Kanavas and Finley, Schuldt says she would "invite them to come to Milwaukee. Then I would invite them to look these people in the eye and say, 'I want to tear down your house so I can get to the Zoo from Downtown four minutes faster, some 20 years from now, during rush hour.'"

Schuldt says the group is always open to new members and groups but is not currently planning any major fundraising efforts as long as the current forces can keep their noise level matching that of the freeway forces.

People can check out the neighborhood by visiting

Shook is the government/political reporter for the Waukesha Freeman.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

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