The Marquette Interchange: what DOT forgot to mention

Nov. 22 — The Marquette Interchange project will consume property now belonging to Marquette University/Gesu Church, Carver Park, Elm Elementary Creative Arts School and the Aurora Sinai medical complex, according to the Department of Transportation’s Environmental Assessment for the project. Students walking to Elm or nearby Roosevelt Middle School or Metro High School from west of I-43 will “have to cross the exit ramp and entrance ramp intersections with Walnut Street,” the report says. “Milwaukee Public Schools officials and the school principal have expressed concern for pedestrian safety on Walnut Street as the students cross I-43 and the ramp terminals. Further south, the Marquette project also will “increase the visual intrusiveness of the I-794 corridor” because the freeway “would have to be constructed wider and higher to safely accommodate the Plankinton Ave. interchange,” according to the EA. “The width and height of I-794 would make it more out-of-context with the surrounding development than the existing I-794.” I-794 would be about 14 feet higher than it is now, the document says. The EA, completed in 2001, also says that a SEWRPC recommendation to expand regional freeways could render the assessment document inadequate under federal law. The EA does not consider the impacts of additional lanes. “There would be ample opportunity for public input in conjunction with a revised…document and developing alternatives for expanding capacity,” the EA says. DOT, however, has not invited input on the Marquette EA, and has done little to make the existing document available to the public. It is not posted on the DOT’s Marquette Interchange web site, and its availability is mentioned only once — in an October 2001 newsletter that is posted on the site as a .pdf file. Jim Rowen, a top aide to Mayor John O. Norquist, said there are many questions about the project “that WisDOT avoided by drafting the final Marquette Interchange ‘design’ behind-closed-doors, rather than with open public hearings and full environmental reviews. It remains to be seen if the project’s planning complies with the National Environmental Policy Act.” The Environmental Assessment can be read by members of the public in only four places, including DOT offices in Waukesha and Madison, according to the newsletter. The other two sites are in downtown Milwaukee — at the Central Library (for reference use only — the EA cannot be checked out) and at the City Hall Legislative Reference Bureau Library. According to the EA: I-794 will be closer to two residential buildings on the south side of the freeway between 2nd and 3rd Streets. The footprint of the Marquette Interchange will be reduced near Plankinton Ave. and James Lovell St. and will expand near Marquette University’s Tory Hill. Changing the westbound James Lovell ramp from a loop to a “straight on” ramp will free up about 4 acres of land bounded by Michigan St., the Marquette Interchange, James Lovell St., and 8th St. The visual profile of the Interchange will be greater, since the core interchange and the east approach will be higher. Marquette University / Gesu Church would lose 41,817 square feet of property. Elm Elementary would lose 7,405 square feet of land. 21,780 square feet would be taken from Carver Park. Aurora Sinai would lose 4,356 square feet.

CASH seeks answers from DOT

The Marquette Interchange Environmental Assessment and DOT’s unwillingness to make it widely available raise many questions about the project, especially in light of DOT’s decision to spend $4 million on public relations for the reconstruction. Citizens Allied for Sane Highways is seeking answers from DOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi. To read the full contents of the CASH letter, click here.