Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Yes, you can kill bad highway projects: I-94 widening in Milwaukee bites the dust

Sometimes a highway project is so bad you wonder why it keeps going.  Institutional inertia?  Sunk cost fallacy?  Inability to think of solutions outside the covers of the AASHTO Green Book?  (In my old agency, the saying was that no project is dead until it’s built!)
I am happy to report, as a member of the supporting cast in the drama, that the proposed widening of I-94 in the East-West Corridor of Milwaukee has been stopped (story here).  The proximate cause is no funding.  The deeper cause is that it was a project that would have caused far more damage – at a huge cost – than any benefit it might have brought, and consequently stirred up a vigorous opposition.  Really, folks, crashing a freeway widening through the middle of a city is no longer considered a responsible way to promote mobility and accessibility.
Now, I-94 has plenty of physical condition and geometric problems and Milwaukee’s East-West Corridor is definitely congested.  And in fact the team opposing the widening, led by WISPIRG, proposed a very responsible alternative, based on a paper I did entitled “The Rehab/Transit Option: A Better Solution for Milwaukee’s East-West Corridor” (available here).  As the name implies, the recommendation is to fix the physical condition problems and isolated safety problems on I-94, while beginning to invest heavily in transit in the corridor.  Milwaukee is one of the largest cities in the U. S. with no rapid transit.  Time to reboot!
FYI, my other reports on the subject addressed the problems on I-94 (“WisDOT’s East-West Corridor Project:  20th century solutions to 21st century problems”) and the economic development potential that first-rate transit can unlock at major activity centers in the corridor (“Milwaukee’s Corridor to the Future:  Creating a new paradigm for transportation and development in the 21st century”).

Congrats to WISPIRG and all the coalition members for stopping a bad project.  Lots more work to do to get the right solution going!

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