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DOT presents ideas for Milwaukee-area I-94 upgrade

Dec. 10, 2012

Major Milwaukee-area highway work doesn't end when the Zoo Interchange is done, and a new project in the planning stages could bring double-decker highways to town.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation held its second public information open house on the I-94 east-west freeway project that is next on its list Dec. 5 at State Fair Park.

After listening to citizens at a meeting in the spring, this event was designed to present ideas for rebuilding I-94 from 70th Street on the west end to 25th Street on the east. The project would include rebuilding the Stadium Interchange, the last of the three big local interchanges to be taken on, after the Marquette and the Zoo.

This piece of highway is among the most dangerous in the state - twice the statewide average, according to DOT figures - with crash rates at several points, especially interchanges.

The study area has six tightly spaced interchanges in less than three miles of I-94, and they have been identified as too close together. Most of the ramps involved allow too little room to efficiently merge and too little distance for traffic to accelerate to interstate speeds or slow down to stop. The interchanges are at 70th-68th streets, Hawley Road, Mitchell Boulevard, the stadium, 35th Street and 26th Street-St. Paul Avenue.

Public reaction against the idea of shutting down interchanges has caused engineers to pursue a strategy of "preserving interchanges but reducing turbulence," according to one engineer.

Methods proposed include using "braided ramps," in which one ramp is elevated over another to prevent conflict caused by on- and off-ramps; collector-distributor roads, which are parallel lanes or ramps separate from the mainline but still within the freeway right-of-way; and arterial and frontage roads, which are local roads that parallel the freeway.

Other considerations for the upgrade include preserving the current footprint of the highway, making spot improvements to the configuration, or taking on a full modernization, bringing the whole area up to current standards. In any case, the highway will be torn out and rebuilt from the ground up, not just resurfaced, said DOT communications manager Emlynn Grisar.

Complications of the new highway include three cemeteries - Wood National Cemetery, Calvary Cemetery and Beth Hamedrosh Hagodel Cemetery - lining the highway between Hawley Road and Mitchell Boulevard just west of the stadium. Instead of widening the highway there, engineers have proposed a double-decker option to convey a projected increase in traffic through that region.

Construction isn't likely to begin until 2019, Grisar said.

An open house with a narrower range of options will be held next spring. A public hearing with a recommended alternative and more detailed cost and impact information is planned for fall 2013.

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