The Project

Originally built in the early 1960s and linking the state’s $800 million investment in the Marquette Interchange and $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An Aging and Outdated Corridor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 Left-side ramps, narrow shoulders, short weaving distances, and other outdated features fail to provide safe operating conditions for today’s cars, buses and large trucks.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.

Approval Rescinded

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.

Benefits of Moving Forward

  • Maximizes the return on the $2.4 billion investment the state and federal governments have made to rebuild the Marquette and Zoo interchanges. The benefits of these modern interchanges will only be fully realized if the primary freeway connecting them is equally efficient and safe.
  • Preserves the roughly $20 million the state has already invested in planning, environmental study, early engineering work, and the consensus built among a broad range of stakeholders.
  • Avoids a no-win decision between two bad options: a continual cycle of costly Band-Aid solutions – such as another resurfacing (estimated at $40 million-plus) – or a replace-in-kind scenario where the state pays for the construction of a brand-new bottleneck at the cost of more than half a billion dollars. While reconstructing the segment as-is will alleviate the need for short-term patches, it will do nothing to address the underlying safety and congestion issues.
  • Reduces emissions and benefits regional air quality by relieving congestion, improving traffic operations, lessening delays from crashes, and increasing travel speeds.
  • Supports additional economic development in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties and enhances the region’s efforts to grow. A good transportation network is key to economic growth and job creation and consistently ranks as one of the top criteria among business executives determining desirable commercial investment locations.