The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) announced yesterday it will conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement on proposed I-94 East-West Corridor improvements, setting the project back a year. The 3.5-mile section of I-94 just west of downtown Milwaukee has been recommended for enumeration in the upcoming budget currently before the Legislature.
“This will allow us time to better assess the changes in traffic patterns resulting from the pandemic, and to receive more public input. It will also help us make certain that our efforts to ensure racial equity with this project are comprehensive and aligned with federal priorities," WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said.
According to the department's Facilities Development Manual, reevaluation of a proposed project's environmental documents should be conducted when new or updated information is available that could change previously made decisions.
In this case, the Federal Highway Administration issued a Record of Decision (ROD) on the preferred alternative to add a fourth lane in each direction on Sept. 9, 2016, at an estimated cost of $852 million (2014 $). However, after the Legislature removed the project from the 2017-19 budget due to a dispute with former Gov. Scott Walker over funding, WisDOT requested the ROD be rescinded on Sept. 29, 2017. Gov. Tony Evers announced in July 2020 that the project was being restarted and recommended enumeration in his 2021-23 budget proposed in February. It had been anticipated that a new ROD would be issued later this year, but conducting a Supplemental EIS will push that back at least a year.
I-94 East-West -- the corridor between the modernized Zoo and Marquette Interchanges (at a cost of $2.5 billion) -- is one of the oldest and busiest freeways in the state, carrying an estimated 17 million tons of freight valued at $25 billion annually. It is also one of the most unsafe freeway corridors in the state, with a crash rate two to three times higher than the statewide average. The last three freeway modernization projects in the Milwaukee area resulted in crash reductions of between 29% and 48%.