Milwaukee's Highway Expansion Will Make a Food Desert Even Worse

I-94's eight-lane expansion is set to destroy a Milwaukee neighborhood's only place to buy food: a gas station.

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Temporary highway directional signs in Milwaukee
Just build one more lane. It’ll fix traffic!
Photo: Raymond Boyd (Getty Images)

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) plans to expand a 3.5-mile stretch of Interstate-94 in Milwaukee. The $1.2 billion expansion would see the highway widened from six to eight lanes between 70th and 16th Streets in the city. WisDOT claims the modernization project would reduce congestion and chase on this section of I-94 which passes American Family Field, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team.

Along with completely ignoring the concept of induced demand, the I-94 expansion project has faced significant backlash from the communities adjacent to I-94. Many of these marginalized neighborhoods would be getting double-tapped after the highway’s initial construction in the 1960s.

One of those impacted neighborhoods is Piggsville. Piggsville sits on an urban peninsula with I-94 to the south, the Menomonee River to the west, and Wisconsin Avenue and the Molson Coors brewery to the north. There are no supermarkets, grocery stores or fast-food restaurants in Piggsville. It’s a food desert where the only local place to buy food is a gas station. Any trip to buy food in this section of the city without a car requires a mile-long walk to and back.

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Urban Milwaukee reported that the expansion of I-94 would result in the demolition of the neighborhood’s gas station. An urgent care center and a Black-owned bar would also be torn down to accommodate the project.

There is a coalition of community organizations advocating for an alternative modernization project called Fix at Six. The plan would call for the highway to be repaired but remain at six lanes. The funds for highway expansion would be diverted to expanding Milwaukee’s public transportation system in this area of the city, including a new bus rapid transit line. Ideally, this plan would reduce demand on I-94 and make adjacent communities safer for pedestrians and bicycle riders. Fix at Six would also be $40 million cheaper than the eight-lane expansion.

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However, the Milwaukee County Board voted against a non-binding Fix at Six resolution yesterday. The resolution failed to pass by a single vote. Seemingly, federal intervention would be the only method to avert the eight-lane expansion. Considering the federally-funded project to remove I-375 in downtown Detroit, a change of direction wouldn’t be out of the question.