Thursday, February 5, 2009

WisDOT kills worst Zoo Interchange design; bad ones remain

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has eliminated from consideration the Zoo Interchange reconstruction alternative that would require the destruction of the most homes and businesses -- including a $10 million to $12 million building in the Honey Creek Corporate Center -- according to agency officials.

Instead, WisDOT has come up with a potential hybrid that calls for an eastbound diamond interchange, westbound access to I-94 via one-way service roads and a "Texas-U-Turn" at 76th Street. A Texas U-turn essentially forces a driver who wants to exit at one place -- say 84th Street -- to travel well past that to another exit point, such as 76th Street, then loop back on another road to 84th Street.

The hybrid would require the destruction of 13 homes on the south side of I-94 east of 88th Street, WisDOT officials told the Common Council's Steering and Rules Committee last week.

WisDOT still also is considering an alternative that would not require any buildings along the eastern leg to be razed, but that would rely on one-way service roads and a Texas U-turn that would require those drivers wanting to exit at 84th Street to travel to 76th Street before swinging back.

City engineer Jeff Polenske cautioned that while the option minimizes property impacts, it could have significant negative traffic impacts on North 76th Street.

All of the illustrations WisDOT presented to the committee showed the freeway expanded to eight lanes, though WisDOT official Donna Brown said six lane configurations still were under consideration.

Interestingly, when Ald. Robert Bauman asked about the eight-lane configuration, WisDOT consultant Brad Heimlich said he wanted to show city officials the "worst case scenario."

The number of lanes the department chooses would not affect the number of homes and businesses that would be destroyed, but the eight-lane version would be about 25 to 30 feet wider than the six-lane version, Heimlich said.

He also said that in the area between N. 76th St. and N. 84th St., the footprint of the freeway, including the Texas U-Turns, could be about double what it is now. The State Fair Park parking lot could be significantly smaller as a result of the project.

Brown ruled out an analysis of alternative transportation modes during the environmental impact study for the freeway reconstruction. She also said inclusion of transit components in the Zoo Interchange study could not be accomplished within the construction timeline Gov. Doyle set. That timeline, however, was entirely political. Doyle announced it at a press conference when Republican pressure to accelerate the Zoo Interchange project was shaping up to be a campaign issue in the 2006 race.

Aldermen made it clear they did not think any of their concerns about the potential loss of tax base, harm to the city or transportation alternatives would matter to WisDOT. Ald. Michael Murphy said bluntly that Milwaukee was "screwed."

Later in the meeting, Ald. Robert Bauman said that WisDOT really doesn't care what city officials think.

"They could care less what our opinion is," Ald. Robert Bauman said. "This is all a dog and pony show. They're required to come here, so you can check off 'talked to city council' on the check list of the draft environmental impact public participation."

Council President Willie Hines agreed. "It's clearly obvious that we do have to hear this," he said of WisDOT's presentation. "Some of us didn't want to, don't want to just play the game. It's not a game to us...We're beginning to question even more as to whether or not anyone's listening or whether or not anyone cares. That's kind of disturbing, very disturbing."


Dave Reid said...

I wondered if the committee could of voted against the communication file to show their disapproval... Not that it would of mattered much but it would of gotten a little more press.

Gretchen Schuldt said...

There is a vote coming, which committee members fully expect WisDOT to ignore.