8/28/18 – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Gov. Scott Walker is doing the construction equivalent of moving the goalposts — except, in this case, they’re orange traffic barrels.
Walker on Monday celebrated the completion of the core of the Zoo Interchange, even though work on the interchange’s north leg is behind schedule. The overall construction project has for years tormented Milwaukee-area commuters.
“The Zoo Interchange Core is completed on time and on budget,” the GOP governor said in a statement.
There was even a “Zoo Interchange Core completion ceremony,” where Walker cut a red ribbon with giant scissors.
Trouble is, the Zoo Interchange project remains unfinished and the price tag for the north leg recently went up.
Pat Goss, executive director of the trade group Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, hailed the completion of the centerpiece of the Zoo Interchange but said in a statement the north leg and other projects must still be addressed.
“The vital reconstruction of the north leg of the Zoo Interchange sits idle and the east-west corridor, which links the Marquette and Zoo Interchanges, has been abandoned,” Goss said in a statement.
And without a long-term vision and plan to reconstruct these projects along with the remainder of the southeast freeway system and other vital projects all over Wisconsin, Wisconsin will not realize the full economic and traveling efficiency benefits these investments can bring.”
In 2011, Walker promised to complete the entire Zoo Interchange project by 2019. He’s meeting that deadline for the core of the project, but not its north leg.
That work now isn’t expected to be done until 2023 at a cost of $232.6 million — 16 percent more than last year’s estimate of $202.6 million, according to the Daily Reporter.
That work will get done by 2023 only if the governor and Legislature approve the funding in next year’s state budget. Walker hasn’t decided yet whether to make enough money available to meet that already-delayed deadline, according to this office.
In all, work on the overall Zoo Interchange project will cost about $1.5 billion.
“You can see there is work that needs to be done, not in that intersection itself, but in the parts that come into it,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Tuesday.
He blamed Walker for the delay.
“We all know what’s happened. The governor has borrowed so much money for transportation purposes that it is squeezing out other projects in this area and throughout the state of Wisconsin,” Barrett said. “And that is no way, it is no way, to run a transportation budget, to rely on borrowing. And that’s what the governor has done for eight years, and I think it’s coming back to bite him right now.”
In a statement, Walker’s Democratic opponent in the November election, state Schools Superintendent Tony Evers, said Walker “hasn’t kept his word.”
“Regardless of whatever political spin he’s peddling today, you can add the Zoo interchange to the running list of Scott Walker’s broken promises,” his statement said.
Mandela Barnes, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, compared Walker’s Zoo Interchange ribbon cutting to former President George W. Bush standing under a “Mission Accomplished” banner and declaring that major combat operations in Iraq had ended — just weeks after the 2003 invasion.
After this article was posted online, Walker accused the Journal Sentinel of media bias on Twitter because no one from the newspaper attended his Monday ribbon-cutting.
“Media bias? Journal Sentinel couldn’t attend the event to celebrate finishing the Zoo Interchange Core on time and on budget but could track down multiple critics — including one in person for a video segment,” Walker tweeted.
In a statement, Walker campaign spokesman Austin Altenburg criticized Evers and others.
“Apparently getting things done is confusing for Tony Evers and the rest of the Democrats criticizing the on-time and on-budget completion of the Zoo Interchange Core project,” his statement said. “Evers can push false narratives and follow Tom Barrett’s failed leadership all he wants — Scott Walker has repeatedly shown that’s no winning formula against his commitment to keeping his word.”
Amy Hasenberg, a spokeswoman for Walker’s office, tried to keep the focus on the core of the project and didn’t address why Walker is touting finishing part of the work when the overall project is behind schedule.
“This is important for commerce, for health care, for entertainment and tourism, and overall quality of life,” Hasenberg said in a statement. “Governor Walker will look at the north leg and other projects across the state as we head into the next state budget.”
Walker made the announcement Monday as plans are in place to reopen ramps this week at Greenfield Avenue, Lincoln Avenue and Blue Mound Road.
Other work remains to be done throughout southeastern Wisconsin and around the state, including the long-delayed I-94 north-south project in Racine County. That project got a new jolt of life when Foxconn Technology Group announced its plans to build a plant in Mount Pleasant.
Walker pursued reconstructing the east-west section of I-94 but dropped the idea last year when the federal government warned the state it might withdraw its authorization of the project because the state didn’t have a plan for funding it. The project — now on the sidelines — is expected to cost more than $1 billion.