The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Zoo Interchange stirs up controversy amongst city politicians

Since January, commuters have had to navigate the dense jungle of orange traffic barrels that have cropped up around the Zoo Interchange, the state’s busiest intersection of highways, which is currently being repaired to address significant concrete deterioration.

In response to the emergency closure of one of the interchange ramps at the end of March, Milwaukee’s top two executives – and likely opponents in this fall’s gubernatorial election – began assigning blame for the mounting traffic on the region’s freeway system.

State officials had the chance to address the crumbling Zoo Interchange in 2005, but instead decided to expand Interstate 94 between General Mitchell International Airport and the Wisconsin-Illinois border.

Scott Walker, Milwaukee County executive and the leading Republican in the governor race, accused his likely Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, of showing a lack of interest in repairing the interchange.

He cited a letter Barrett wrote to State Sens. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Judy Robson (D-Beloit), in which he opposed funding for preliminary engineering of a Zoo Interchange reconstruction, which would have cost taxpayers $38 million.

The proposal made it to Gov. Jim Doyle’s desk, but he vetoed $35 million of the funds the Legislature had approved for the project. That ensured any road construction money would go toward the lane expansion on I-94. Construction on that project began in 2009 and is expected to continue through 2016, according to the DOT.

Walker has also been critical of the transportation policies of the current Democratic administration, accusing Doyle of taking millions of dollars from the state’s transportation fund in order to balance state budgets. Walker also criticized the Democrats’ push for high-speed rail in the state.

“It is amazing that Gov. Doyle and Mayor Barrett can advocate $810 million on a new ‘high-speed’ rail line while the state government cannot even fix one of the busiest interchanges in Wisconsin,” Walker said in a statement.

Barrett said in a statement that he was disappointed other candidates would “fabricate controversy in order to score political points.” He also said he would remain committed to rebuilding the Zoo Interchange.

Mark Neumann, another Republican candidate who, unlike Walker and Barrett, has no political roots in Milwaukee, called the situation with the interchange “disastrous.” He said he’s concerned with the negative impact a crumbling Zoo Interchange could have on the economy.

“It’s hard to compete in job creation with the current infrastructure,” Neumann said during his appearance at the Marquette Law School with Mike Gousha on April 1. He added he’s not worried about what has already happened – he’s more focused on making sure a similar situation doesn’t happen again.

On March 26, the state Department of Transportation unexpectedly closed the bridge in the Zoo Interchange that carries traffic on Interstate 894/U.S. Highway 45 northbound, amidst fears of collapse. Inspectors found extensive deterioration of the concrete support girders on the underside of the bridge. The bridge reopened the morning of April 2.

Initially, DOT inspectors identified cracking under the bridge last summer and imposed weight limits on trucks passing through the corridor, but many truckers ignored the restrictions.

For the time being, work that began in January on three of the Zoo Interchange’s bridges continues, with projected completion dates slated for mid-June, according to the DOT. These ramps are scheduled to be closed overnight during construction.

As the busiest interchange in the state, it connects commuters with many major Milwaukee-area attractions, including the Milwaukee County Zoo, Wisconsin State Fair Park, Miller Park and Mayfair Mall.

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