West Allis sees rough road ahead in I-94 ramp plan

April 2, 2013

West Allis - West Allis development and business leaders are reacting with shock and dismay at a state plan to take away freeway access at 60th Street and take it partly away at 70th Street.

"I can't believe they would be that calloused to first-ring suburbs to shut off easy access to the freeway," said John Stibal, West Allis development director.

If the Department of Transportation carries out its plan, local residents would have trouble getting on Interstate 94. The Six Points area and businesses along 60th Street depend on the West Allis ramps, Stibal said.

No improvement

"A crumbling freeway is better than no freeway at all," he said. "The best the DOT can do for us is leave us alone."

Stibal noted that the plan has little impact on freeway access at Miller Park as well as further west on I-94, where the entrance and exit ramps are already space far enough apart to escape elimination.

Diane Eineichner, director of the Downtown Business Improvement District that includes Greenfield Avenue properties from 70th to 76th streets, said a major selling point for the downtown in attracting new business is its easy access to the freeway.

The DOT plan would take some of that away, she said.

On and off limitations

With its revamp of the Interstate 94 corridor, the DOT wants to reduce the number of on-ramps for a reason.

The theory is that freeway traffic would slow up less often for merging traffic, thereby relieving some of the rush hour congestion, said Peter Daniels, West Allis principle engineer for roads.

Although there are several options, the ones that worry West Allis officials and business people would make it impossible to get on or off I-94 between 40th and 70th streets.

If westbound drivers want to use the current 68th or 60th street exits, they would have to get off the freeway at 40th Street and then use a new frontage road that would be built to access the current exits, Daniels said. But westbound drivers who miss the 40th Street exit couldn't get off the freeway until 70th Street.

Similarly, eastbound drivers who want to get off at 60th Street would have to exit at 70th and use a similar frontage road. The next direct exit off the freeway would at 40th Street before they can get off, Daniels said.

The frontage roads might have speed limits from 30 to 40 mph and stoplights, he said.

Besides being slower than the freeway, the frontage roads might be underground, making it harder for motorists to spot their exits, Daniels said, noting the similarity in the design of Chicago's Wacker Drive, which even Daniel has gotten lost on.

"Some people drive by landmarks," he said.

Possible roadblocks

Officials may have driven a crack into the DOT plans.

Some who oppose the DOT's plans have suggested that the proposed consolidation of freeway ramps would unduly affect areas that have significant minority populations. That's something that could impact the final design.

The DOT also will get actual traffic counts after Daniels and Mayor Dan Devine protested that the consolidated ramps would be overloaded.

State officials said they would have traffic counts and new alternatives at a meeting in late May with West Allis officials.

Regardless, the DOT has to consider what's fair for the heavily populated inner suburbs, Stibal said. Freeway design seems to favor some more than others, he suggested.

The current proposal "would mean (highway planners) design for far suburbs and the Milwaukee Brewers," he said.

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