First, an updated report from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
The [Oak Creek] Common Council on Thursday scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Monday to discuss the city's financial commitment to a possible I-94 interchange at Drexel Ave.
The council has already adopted a resolution pledging $3.75 million in city money. At time [sic], that was equal to 25% of the $15 million that the state Department of Transportation estimated the interchange would cost.
The DOT, however, requires 50% in local money to build an interchange.
Recently, however, the DOT reduced its cost estimate to $12.9 million and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, which has a large office complex in Franklin, has pledged $1.6 million toward the interchange cost.
The City of Franklin has not pledged any money to the proposed interchange, although it has said it would cover $500,000 in lighting on the Franklin side of S. 27th St. That would normally be the responsibility of the DOT.
A new resolution to be considered at Monday's special meeting would commit Oak Creek to the same $3.75 million it previously pledged for the interchange, plus $650,000 in lighting for Drexel Ave. and S. 27th St. and related utility costs.
The resolution was to have been considered at the council's regular meeting Tuesday, but the discussion was postponed.
The Franklin Common Council said this week it is open to further negotiations on a Drexel interchange.
So, Oak Creek -- a beneficiary of the superfluous-to-Franklin interchange by virtue of its location relative to Howell Ave. and the vacant Delphi plant; why wouldn't they be all for it? -- waits for Franklin to flinch. They are good poker players.
But if Franklin is smart, the city will stand pat and keep its half-million out of this blatant subsidy.
I'm pessimistic about the city's ability to play their cards right, though. Unfortunately, past and present Franklin members of the 27th Street Steering Committee suffer from cognitive dissonance when it comes to economic development in that area. This group, composed of self-professed "true conservatives," has gotten used to tossing around numbers like $265,823 for marketing materials related to 27th Street. Once you've committed to a writing checks like that, a half-mil is not so hard to part with when it might actually result in an actual work product (and, obviously, Boomgaard does not count as a positive outcome).
Meanwhile, putting sidewalk facilities in front of Franklin's high school (finally!) during the impending reconstruction of 51st street -- a vital, common sense piece of the rehabilitation this city sorely needs -- is bemoaned by 27th Street chair and Franklin alderman Steve Olson because, true conservative that he is, he believes the city should not spend money that, in his view, it does not have. (On the positive side, it should be noted that Alderman Olson is no Scrooge; he donated $50 to the Franklin Trails Committee's Walking Workshop, held last weekend.).
Here are some truths that need to be understood:
- The interchange will be built, whether or not Franklin subsidizes it with its half million dollar "enhanced lighting" Trojan horse payment. The powerful road-building lobby has this in hand, and will deploy their bought-and-paid-for advocates;
- Does an interchange near city limits create jobs? Yes - site location consultants count access to a freeway as a plus for any community they are considering;
- When site location consultants evaluate Franklin for freeway access as a potential asset, they put a big gold star next to the city's name: The Rawson and Ryan interchanges bracket the city perfectly. (New interchange? No thanks - we're good);
- Does a third(!) interchange near city limits create jobs? Yes, but 99% of them require a hair net and pay minimum wage;
- Why is Northwestern Mutual kicking in? Northwestern Mutual owns a large parcel of land across 27th Street from their Franklin corporate campus. $1.6 million is a small price to pay to create the possibility of a lucrative off-ramp development (they are surely not looking to cut 95 seconds from their employees' commutes);
- Franklin is facing infrastructure and municipal service challenges to the extent that $500,000 can and should be utilized within city limits, or on regional efforts that are more likely to strengthen the city's sustainability;
- The Rawson and Ryan interchanges create a natural traffic flow onto 27th Street, which is supposed to be our commercial jewel, the marketing of which is evidently worth our spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. Frankly, a Drexel interchange breaks that advantageous flow;
- The newly-created ramp-blight vs. potential opportunity equation weighs distinctly against Franklin. Off-ramp fast food jobs do not offset increased road damage, heightened "drive-thru community" image problems, and diversion of traffic away from already-expensive 27th Street.
Franklin faces a clear choice: Spend a half-million dollars to subsidize off-ramp fast food franchises and shoot more and faster traffic through town, or use that money to bolster a sustainable, deep economy that will attract quality businesses and jobs.
So, if site location consultants feel that Franklin is already well situated with regard to freeway access, what other factors do they look at that Franklin ought to work on improving? We'll look at that in Part 3 (and, hopefully, at the Economic Development Commission meeting on Monday night).