Originally built in the early 1960s and linking the state’s $800 million investment in the Marquette Interchange and ongoing $1.6 billion investment in the Zoo Interchange, the I-94 East-West Corridor runs for 3.5 miles between 16th and 70th Streets in Milwaukee County. Nearly 21,000 businesses, 310,000 jobs, and 540,000 residents are located within a 5-mile radius of the corridor’s center. The stretch connects Milwaukee and Waukesha counties to points beyond. It is a main artery for Wisconsin commerce and serves as the gateway for the products, jobs, destinations, and health care that make the region vibrant and strong.
An Aging and Outdated Corridor
But this critical roadway is at a tipping point as its age and ongoing deterioration create significant congestion, safety, and economic development challenges. The East-West carries between 140,000 and 160,000 vehicles per day – 30,000 more than its 1950s-era design intended. Left-side ramps, narrow shoulders, short weaving distances, and other outdated features fail to provide safe operating conditions for today’s cars, buses and large trucks. The average crash rate is two to three times higher than the statewide urban freeway average and, at some points, more than four times higher.
Full reconstruction and modernization of the East-West Corridor have been on the state’s agenda for some time. The state has spent millions of dollars on engineering, planning, and environmental study for the effort. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) worked diligently on a preferred alternative that cut well over $200 million off the total project cost. This alternative includes essential safety and efficiency upgrades, as well as a neighborhood-sensitive design that avoids nearby homes, businesses, cemeteries, and the national historic landmark associated with the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center.
The East-West project progressed toward a 2020-21 start until February 2017, when funding to keep it moving forward was unexpectedly cut from the state’s proposed 2017-19 budget.
After federal authorities warned the state they would pull authorization for the project if the state did not develop a funding plan, WisDOT requested the FHWA rescind its approval – Record of Decision (ROD) – for the project.
Project Reevaluation and Startup
In July 2020, Governor Tony Evers announced WisDOT seeks federal approval to resume the I-94 East-West Corridor project. WisDOT is continuing environmental and engineering analysis of the corridor with a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement expected to be complete in 2022. As part of the process, WisDOT uses new data and additional input from transit, business, and labor and disadvantaged business enterprise advisory groups to meet better the needs of Milwaukee’s diverse communities.
The governor and lawmakers enumerated the project as part of the 2021-23 state budget.