Saturday, November 17, 2007

$1.9 Billion I-94 Expansion Announced

Wisconsin transportation officials have announced a $1.9 billion plan to reconstruct I-94 from Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee to the Wisconsin/Illinois state line and to add a fourth lane in each direction. In Illinois, the Illinois Tollway is expanding I-94 south of the Wisconsin border (the North Tri-State) to four lanes in each direction.

At the same time, the Wisconsin legislature recently killed a rental car tax increase that would have funded a Kenosha/Racine/Milwaukee commuter rail line (dated website here) that would be linked to Metra's North Line. That project would cost about $250 million to build according to news reports (e.g., here). Metra's financial troubles are well known.

This commentator questions whether it makes sense for Wisconsin (and by extension Illinois) to be pumping public investment capital into highways--with their adverse environmental effects--while neglecting alternatives such as commuter rail. This commentator takes the position that the transportation networks and economies of northeastern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin need to be better integrated and urges that both the highway and rail projects go forth.

Is there a ready-made solution: Toll the entire I-94 corridor from Chicago to Milwaukee and use a portion of the proceeds to upgrade both direct rail service (Amtrak) and commuter rail service (KRM and Metra)? With the heavy daily traffic volumes it would not be hard to generate plenty of revenue to fund such alternatives.


Anonymous said...

Watch it, Mod; now you're venturing into Wisconsin Transportation Issues territory. Might point out that Virginia is paying half of its local match for Metrorail's Dulles extension with higher tolls along the parallel Dulles Toll Road and airport PFCs. Perhaps Wisconsin could chip in for operating costs by shifting dollars from the Hiawatha line.

Anonymous said...

Also note that doubling the tolls on the I-94 portion of the Tri-State just resulted in a great increase in truck traffic on U.S. 41. Although both 94 and 41 are on the same road in Wisconsin, I'm sure the truckers will find alternates.

Anonymous said...

The argument that transit is better than highways, so we shouldn't invest in highways doesn't make any sense. For one thing, the "pots of money" that can be used to build expressways (80% federal, 20% local) can't be spent on transit. So what you're saying is that IDOT should take its 20% and give it to transit, leaving the 80% for the federal government to give to some other place. Also, expressways that bring freight into the region are important for our economy -- a high percent of expressway traffic is trucks as anyone will attest. Don't add capacity and 1) truck will find local roads to travel on if they can save time , 2) the price of all those goods you buy at all those stores will increase because the goods enter the region on trucks and extra driving time adds extra costs. Chicago is I think the third largest port in the world after Hong Kong and Singapore.

Anonymous said...

If trucks shifted, it was likely because they weren't getting any significant speed advantage for the higher tolls. ISTHA and the gov keep tolls high enough to repay the bond obligations, but way too low to have any significant congestion effect.

The truck tolls went up because that was about the only way to keep pace with bond and maintenance obligations while preserving the sacrosanct 40 cent car toll.

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