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SEWRPC’s Freeway Expansion Plan: Impact on Milwaukee Neighborhoods

by Gretchen Schuldt, Citizens Allied for Sane Highways (CASH)

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) has proposed redesigning the freeway system and adding new lanes to 127 miles of the region’s freeways. In Milwaukee County, more lanes would be added to I-894, I-45, I-43, and I-94. The plan would cost $6.25 billion, or $17.2 million per month — not including interest on any borrowing — for 30 years. No funding source has been identified. SEWRPC says finding a way to pay for its plans is not its responsibility. SEWRPC Executive Director Philip Evenson also said that it is not unusual for early estimates of big projects to be on the low side. The price tag for Marquette Interchange reconstruction, for example, has doubled since 1997. (The Department of Transportation originally budgeted $17 million for Aldrich Chemical, and ended up paying $32 million, with much more likely to be paid out for relocation costs.) The State Department of Transportation recommended that the entire project be partially paid for by cutting money for other transit, an idea that appears to be dead. Gov. Doyle suggested that the first piece of the plan — reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange — be funded by cutting transportation projects in other areas of the state. SEWRPC’s plan would require the destruction of at least 216 residences and 31 businesses, 177 and 20 of them, respectively, in Milwaukee County. It would mean another 28.7 million square feet dedicated to freeways, including 3.2 million square feet of primary environmental corridor and 1.9 million square feet of wetlands. SEWRPC says the specific houses and businesses to be torn down will be identified later. Storm water controls (more asphalt means more highly-polluted runoff) will be determined later. Specific noise abatement measures will be determined later, although SEWRPC is proposing 37.1 new miles of sound barriers, almost all in Milwaukee County. Specific freeway design will be determined later. SEWRPC’s expansion plan would wipe more than $140 million off the county tax rolls, making it a double whammy on county residents. Not only would they have to pay for the new system through higher state taxes, they would have to pay for the loss of tax base through higher property taxes or reduced local services. Ancillary costs, such as additional freeway patrols and expansion of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District facilities, are likely to drive taxes up even more. Wider highways also likely would depress property values for homes and businesses near them. SEWRPC’s property tax impact calculations do not take that into account. SEWRPC says an expanded freeway system would take thousands of cars each day off of each of several major arterial streets, such as North Avenue and Bluemound Road. The agency does not address what will happen to the businesses on those streets that rely on traffic for customers. There are, of course, all sorts of environmental issues. There is some disagreement, but many studies indicate freeway expansion induces travel that otherwise may not occur. The increased traffic volume leads to more pollution and potentially to more cases of asthma and other serious diseases. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 3 – March 2003

Related Articles

If You Pave It, They Will Come (Riverwest Currents) Coalition opposed to freeway expansion announced (Wispolitics.com) Citizens Allied for Sane Highways calls for state, SEWRPC to start over (Wispolitics.com) Money Trouble (Daily Reporter – WI Construction Industry Newspaper) Freeway debate to hit on hot topics (Journal Sentinel) Groups call for Board to reject shortsighted highway plan, call for comprehensive, inclusive planning approach to balance future transportation needs in Milwaukee County (Sierra Club / Wheeler Report)

by Gretchen Schuldt, Citizens Allied for Sane Highways