Federal civil rights investigation of I-94 Expansion in Milwaukee


Contact: Cassie Steiner

cassie.steiner@sierraclub.org, (262) 930-3963


*Press Release*

Federal civil rights investigation of I-94 Expansion in Milwaukee 

Advocates call on Governor Evers to pause the project; for WISDOT and USDOT not to issue a Final Environmental Impact Statement or a Record of Decision while it is undergoing investigation by the Federal Highway Administration


Milwaukee, Wis.The contentious proposal to expand 3.5 miles of I-94 East/West in Milwaukee is now under investigation by the Federal Highway Administration for a Title VI civil rights complaint. In response, advocates are calling on Governor Evers to halt the project, and for the Federal Highway Administration to not issue a Final EIS or a Record of Decision while the project is being investigated.

“Both the Biden and Evers administrations have said they prioritize addressing climate change and racial inequities. While this project is under a Title VI Civil Rights Act investigation, it must be put on pause. Highway expansions have caused decades of harm, especially to Black and Brown communities. I-94 is yet another example of this problem,” said Cassie Steiner, Senior Campaign Coordinator, Sierra Club - Wisconsin Chapter.

Attorney Dennis Grzezinski explains, “The agencies have been moving forward with expansion alternatives with the knowledge that they will have discriminatory impacts, contrary to the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Right Act and of climate and environmental justice directives of federal executive orders and state policies. This project is located in the most heavily racially segregated metropolitan region in the country. This stretch of the highway corridor has a larger proportion of Black and Hispanic residents than can be found in any other community in the region. The project will result in adverse impacts including increased carbon emissions, air pollution, water pollution, flooding, and fatal traffic crashes - which will disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic communities.” 

The civil rights complaint was filed by dozens of complainants after 32 signatories had previously submitted formal comments on WISDOT’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). Since then, WISDOT has released a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Analysis that confirmed that the 8-lane expansion alternatives will result in more GHG emissions over the course of the project than the 6-lane alternatives.

Cheryl Nenn, Riverkeeper for Milwaukee Riverkeeper explains, “The increased traffic, increased air and noise pollution, and increased water pollution and flooding problems from continued highway expansion will disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic communities located near the highway. This, together with the worsening imbalance between highway expansions and the decline of public transit services, exacerbates impacts to communities of color. Instead, WISDOT should be taking  affirmative steps to undo or overcome the effects of past WISDOT practices and projects that harmed those communities over many generations. 

Carl Glasemeyer, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin Transportation Policy Director highlights, “we continue to call for the state to present transportation options that address the diverse travel needs of the Milwaukee region. Despite WISDOT’s own accounting that 40% or more of Milwaukee’s population are non-drivers, the state continues to advance a planning process for the I-94 corridor with no public transit alternatives. Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission states that ‘The reduction of accessibility to jobs and other activity centers due to the identified transit funding gap would particularly impact people of color, people with lower incomes, and people with disabilities, who utilize public transit at a rate proportionally higher than other population groups.’ Our state transportation officials need to take racial equity seriously within their project development process and present alternatives that would truly serve our local communities.”

The expansion of I-94 in Milwaukee has received opposition from racial justice, religious, environmental, public health and transportation advocacy organizations for more than a decade. In 2017, Governor Walker called on the Federal Highway Administration to halt the project by revoking its Record of Decision, citing local opposition, pending challenges and high project costs to taxpayers. Governor Evers reintroduced the project in 2020, reigniting the opposition. WISDOT agreed to conduct a Draft SEIS, which was released in late 2022. WISDOT had reported that the final SEIS and the Federal Highway Administration’s Record of Decision were expected to be released in late 2023. Now, advocates are calling for Governor Evers, WISDOT, and the Federal Highway Administration to pause on releasing a final EIS and a record of decision while the project is under an open civil rights investigation.

Tony Wilkin Gibart, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, emphasized, “WisDOT and the Evers administration have a responsibility to abide by federal civil rights laws. Our coalition has demonstrated how the plan to expand I-94, coupled with disinvestment in public transit, would lead to multiple racially discriminatory impacts on the communities near the interstate. With the federal government now engaging in a civil rights investigation into this plan, proceeding with the expansion would be inconsistent with the state’s obligation to uphold fundamental civil rights protections."


The Coalition for More Responsible Transportation (CMRT) is composed of faith-based, public interest, social justice, public health, environmental and transportation advocacy groups, as well as of hundreds of concerned citizens from Milwaukee and beyond. CMRT is calling for more responsible, cost-effective transportation spending that better meets local needs, including a focus on accessible, efficient, affordable public transit, and complete walking and biking infrastructure.