Politics & Government
8:44 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Phone Conference Today For Zoo Interchange Lawsuit

Bridge replacement and other work has begun in the Zoo Interchange.

Wisconsin may have to revamp its massive Zoo Interchange project.

Two groups are suing state and federal planners for failing to evaluate the negative effects a reconstructed Zoo Interchange could have on Milwaukee. The parties will talk with a federal judge today.

One group suing is MICAH – Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope. It's complaint is that the Zoo Interchange blueprint does not include a public transit component. Things such as bus-only lanes or rapid transit.

Rev. Willie Briscoe accuses the state DOT of intentionally excluding mass transit. "I think ’s really been done that way because they figure that there is no one advocating for busses, there is no one real entity that they need to stand against in order to get this done," Briscoe says.

MICAH claims the absence of transit improvements discriminates against people without cars, particularly urban minorities – by ignoring their need to reach jobs in outlying areas.

The other plaintiff is the Wisconsin Black Health Coalition.

It insists the plan would worsen urban sprawl and air pollution - jeopardizing the well-being of city residents.

The local American Civil Liberties Union is representing the plaintiffs.

Attorney Karyn Rotker says federal Judge Lynn Adelman is allowing the case to proceed. "This decision that came out May 1oth was in response to a motion that we filed this year for what's called a preliminary injunction. That is, what we said to the judge is, 'We think that you should block this project, or at least the parts of the project that expand capacity on the highway, until we get to a final trial,'" Rotker says.

The judge will update the parties involved, during a telephone conference today.

ACLU Attorney Rotker predicts the court could move to settle the case within months, because of the potential costs associated with a delay.

The price of the rebuild is already $1.7 billion. "They might have to go back to the drawing board and reconsider the effects on urban communities, of the way they're doing their planning and what they are not including," Rotker says.

State transportation officials say they won’t comment, because the case is ongoing.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is closely following developments.

Spokesman Steve Baas calls the Zoo Interchange a vital link for commerce and travel.

He says it’s unfortunate, plaintiffs are attempting to use the courts to leverage public transit improvements. "I think transit, when the arguments are made effectively, can stand on its own and doesn't need to be part of this sort of legal power play where they hold a vital transportation and highway project hostage in order to try and get some of what they were unable to get legislatively on transit," Baas says.

No matter how the courts rule, it’s likely the state will delay some work on the Zoo Interchange.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted last week to trim a fraction of the project’s budget because of lower gas tax revenues.