WEST ALLIS — When business leaders from Milwaukee and Waukesha protested Gov. Scott Walker's plan to stop work on Interstate 94 between the Zoo and the Marquette interchanges, West Allis officials were somewhat on their side.
Although originally against the city losing I-94 ramps to and from the east due to the I-94 changes, West Allis officials have come to value the road the state has offered to build to make up for the city's loss of freeway access, under the plan.
The state Department of Transportation offered to build a road connecting Hawley/60th where drivers can't get on I-94 to 70th Street where they can.
"The offer wasn't the worst scenario to have," West Allis Mayor Dan Devine said of the I-94 freeway plan that included the road.
A $20 million road would have been a plus, said principal engineer Peter Daniels.
"It would have been very nice, but that's going away," he said.
Even if the ramps stay, it would only be for the relatively short-term, Daniels said.
"We're really only talking about postponing," he said. "It has to be done eventually or I-94 will fall apart."
Not only that, he foresees a full reconstruction, rather than a resurfacing.
"I don't think they can resurface it again," Daniels said.
In addition to building a new road, the state planned to repair and upgrade traffic signals on the city's east side, Daniels said.
The DOT made the offers so the Federal Highway Administration would approve the project, he said.
On April 5, just before the legislature's joint finance committee held a hearing on the proposed state budget that contained the plan to stop work on east-west I-94. The hearing was at the Wisconsin State Fair expo in West Allis.
The local business leaders, organized into a group called I-94 East-West Econ Connect, protested that shelving the I-94 work would hurt economic development, waste billions of dollars and threaten safety on the road. They held their press conference at the Hampton Inn & Suites across from the Wisconsin State Fair Expo.
Walker's proposed state budget would divert funding from finishing work on I-94 into Milwaukee toward finishing I-94 construction south of the city. The governor wants to use the estimated $31 million in savings from not finishing the I-94 work right now to help finish the long-delayed work on I-94 south of Milwaukee.
The governor's increased determination to finish I-94 south of the city, makes local officials wonder if the state's Highway 100 project might go on the shelf, too, at least for a while.
The DOT cancelled meetings with officials and the public on plans to widen portions of Highway 100 from Layton Avenue to I-94.
West Allis officials want the road to be reconstructed just the way it is, instead of widening at certain points. West Allis officials mounted strong opposition to widening plans, saying the city stands to lose millions in tax base and possibly businesses at corners where driveway access could be drastically reduced.
"If they resurfaced in 2019, that would be ideal for us," Daniels said. Resurfacing rather than reconstructing might be a possibility, because highway 100 reconstruction doesn't seem to be on the priority list from the governor, he said. Reconstruction means rebuilding from the ground up, while resurfacing puts a fresh top coat on roads.
A letter from the head of the Wisconsin office of the Federal Highway Administration naming highway 100 as one of three projects that could be delayed so others can be finished added fuel to speculation that the project might indeed be on the back burner.
Michael Davies, head of the Wisconsin office of the Federal Highway Administration, is the author of that Dec. 7 letter asking to meet with state highway officials to discuss putting off some projects so that others can be finished.
Daniels said there are good reasons for projects not dragging on for years. Studies of how projects can impact neighborhoods, cities and the environment can become out of date, he said. Long-delayed projects can then have unintended and unplanned for impacts because the environment has changed, he said.