Health care, global warming, education, even property taxes…
For hundreds of thousands of motorists, business and home owners in Southeast Wisconsin, those issues took a back seat to a more pressing concern as of last Friday.
Residents of the area quickly began calling it the Barrett Bypass.
Already the subject of a costly and temporary repair job due to deteriorating bridges, part of the Zoo Interchange was closed early Friday morning out of fear that a bridge over Interstate 94 could collapse.
The Zoo is the most heavily traveled interchange in the State of Wisconsin. More than 350,000 cars a day use it, with more than 42,000 motorists using the bridge that was abruptly closed.
The saga of the Zoo Interchange has many players and has seen many twists and turns over the last decade or so. However, this fiasco can most clearly be laid at the doorstep of two public officials. The current Governor of Wisconsin, and Milwaukee’s Mayor who is running to replace him.
In recent years, Governor Jim Doyle’s budgets have transferred $1.3 billion from the Wisconsin’s transportation fund for other uses.
His Department of Transportation also fast-tracked other construction projects at the expense of reworking the Zoo Interchange.
Doyle said the delay in the Zoo was done, in part, because there was not a local consensus on the size and scope of the project.
He’s right, and one of the leaders in the way? Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
In 2005, bowing to the concerns of environmentalists who opposed the creation of an expanded east-west corridor between Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, Barrett wrote a breathtaking letter to Governor Doyle.
It is a letter that will haunt Barrett for years and could very well doom any chance he has to succeed Doyle as the state’s Governor.
“I am writing in opposition to funding preliminary engineering of the Zoo Interchange.” Barrett wrote in the letter’s first line.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the last line of the correspondence is even more damning for Barrett.
“Unlike the Marquette Interchange, the Zoo Interchange will stand long enough for us to resolve these issue.”
For the next 60 days or so, several things are certain. More than two million cars will navigate onto city streets and alternative freeway routes. Commuters, truckers and emergency vehicles will face detours and delays because of an avoidable bridge closure in the most-used interchange in the entire state.
One thing that isn’t certain? Which are deteriorating faster, the bridges of the Zoo Interchange, or Tom Barrett’s gubernatorial hopes.
By Brian Fraley
A MacIver Perspective
Copy of Barrett’s 2005 letter, here.