Just Fix It Wisconsin

CARW joins business push to advance I-94 east-west rebuild in state budget 3/31/2017

3/31/2017, Milwaukee Business Journal – Businesses in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties are boosting the volume of their outreach to Madison to oppose delays to the Interstate 94 east-west reconstruction.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed biennial budget does not include an estimated $31.2 million needed to complete the initial design for the I-94 rebuild and widening between 16th and 70th streets. Without that funding, planning and eventual construction would be delayed about two years.

The Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin has been meeting with legislators and making transportation financing its top budget issue, said Tracy Johnson, CARW president and CEO. The I-94 funding has become a “rallying issue” for a lot of members, she said.

A two-year delay would only increase the cost of rebuilding the highway, Johnson said.

“Taking the enumeration off the table and shutting everything down at this point is a bad decision, and will end up costing more,” Johnson said.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce also has pledged to lobby the issue.

Tom Fotsch, chief operating officer of EmbedTek in Pewaukee, has been reaching out to his legislators on the issue. He visited Madison to testify at a budget hearing.

Fotsch said rebuilding I-94 is an employment issue. A fast-running interstate system is important for employees to reach EmbedTek, and for the company to have a broader pool of workers to pull from, he said. The embedded computer company, with about 85 employees, is seeing growth in its software division, and is hiring more engineers who often live closer to downtown Milwaukee, he said.

“Unfortunately, what I think is not being done at the state level is looking at this as an investment,” Fotsch said. “We’ve got to get it done. We’ve got to get it done quickly.”

Johnson and Fotsch raised fears that traffic would get stuck in a bottleneck between the rebuilt Zoo and Marquette interchanges if the segment of I-94 between them is not rebuilt.

Walker in early February said he did not fund the I-94 east-west project because of a lack of clarity on the plan, and concerns that a lawsuit may arise regarding it. A month later, a lawsuit was filed to challenge the reconstruction plan by the NAACP Milwaukee Branch, Sierra Club John Muir Chapter and Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope, or MICAH. That lawsuit is pending in a U.S. Eastern District Court in Milwaukee.

The business contingent is lining up speakers to attend public hearings the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance is planning on April 5 at the State Fair Park grounds in West Allis. Fotsch said he will attempt to be there to make his point on behalf of the company and its employees.

“This is more me saying I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life, and I know we need to be making better decisions on this,” he said.