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DOT: No decisions made on I-94 ramp-closing

Hearings held as DOT begins corridor study for future work

Zenith Tech construction worker Adalberto Frias works on laying concrete on the curb and gutter shoulder area for safer merging at the 68th street I 94 onramp.

Zenith Tech construction worker Adalberto Frias works on laying concrete on the curb and gutter shoulder area for safer merging at the 68th street I 94 onramp. Photo By Mike De Sisti

Aug. 21, 2012

A ramped-up discussion about how access to Interstate 94 might change in the future caught at least one Wisconsin Department of Transporation official by surprise this week.

Michael Pyritz, DOT communications specialist for the area, said the nature of this week's meetings in West Allis and Milwaukee wasn't specifically about a plan to close any ramps along the road, including the 68th/70th streets and 60th Street accesses.

Rather, it's the beginning of a process that could eventually lead to changes, depending on all kinds of data, public comments and financial considerations yet to be unearthed.

The early news

"This really is very early. Everything is on the table and nothing is on the table," Pyritz said. "So everything that somebody says can be both true and false."

For Pyrtiz, the surprise element was that government and business officials in West Allis last week had expressed concern in advance of Tuesday's open house public hearing at the Tommy Thompson Center about the prospect of those particular ramp closings.

The 68th/70th streets ramp is a direct access route to downtown West Allis, and the 60th Street ramp is considered an important element of a redevelopment, known as the Renaissance Faire, in the 800 block of South 60th Street.

Any talk about the closing of those ramps "is so far out in front," Pyritz said, that he wondered how such information could possibly have caused any concern at this point.

Nature of 'corridor study'

This week's meetings - including the subsequent open house from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Burbank Elementary School, 6035 W. Adler St. in Milwaukee - are part of a "corridor study" that only begins the process of formulating ideas, meaning there is no basis to investigate any alternatives at this time, he said.

"(A corridor study) is a way to get the public involved earlier than would normally take place under a standard project," Pyritz said. "When you do a corridor study, you really are starting at the true base level - a blank sheet of paper - getting the information from the businesses, the local elected officials, the citizens who live in the area and use the ramps or the freeway … and identifying areas of concern."

At the earliest, any I-94 project work not related to the more-immediate Zoo Interchange project would happen in 2019, he added.

Concerns nonetheless

Still, what little was known about the long-term plans was enough to generate concern from local officials last week.

Diane Brandt, executive director of the West Allis West Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce, had expressed concern in an email Friday to the West Allis NOW and published Monday as a Community Watch item online at WestAllisNOW.com and JSOnline. Later on Monday, she said that information had generated local attention.

"Some people replied that they are attending (the DOT's open house meetings) and that they would be very concerned if any of those ramps that are impacting our city were closed," Brandt said.

Brandt said her information came from Peter Daniels, a principal engineer for the city of West Allis, about the possibilities of ramp closures.

And Daniels, in turn, said his information comes directly from a brochure put together by the DOT that included language about how some ramps do not meet current design standards and could be considered for closure.

"I lifted it right out of their own text," he said Monday afternoon. "I was sitting in a meeting last week where they explained all that, and then they go on to say in their own literature that they want the public to come (to the open houses) to give input as to where the entrance and exit ramps should be located."

Pyritz said that he's happy that the interested generated by the ramp rumors may push more people to attend the open houses and subsequent meetings that will eventually lead to a project design.

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