The I-94 Road to Prosperity

Politically, Madison and Milwaukee are two Democratic peas in a pod. But culturally  they are like oil and water.  Go figure.

In a story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I make the case that the two cities need to pull together through an economic corridor along  I-94.

The story begins:

What is it about Milwaukee and Madison – that potent mix of mutual disdain, disregard and ignorance that characterizes their odd relationship?

“Only 80 miles separate them, but it’s like the cities are on different sides of the moon,” says James Rowen, who has worked in journalism and for mayors in both cities.

Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist who served for 12 years in the Legislature, offers another celestial view. “It’s the difference between Saturn and Jupiter. Milwaukee and Madison are on different planets,” he says. “Even as technology erases distances, the two cities remain impervious to cooperating.”

John Gurda, a Milwaukee historian and columnist for the Journal Sentinel, says Madison and Milwaukee are like estranged siblings who meet at Thanksgiving and then don’t talk for the rest of the year.

But enough metaphors – I have to blurt out something as loudly as I can.

Wisconsin needs Madison and Milwaukee to pull together.

Simply put, that 80-mile I-94 corridor traversing Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson and Dane counties could be the muscle and brain of Wisconsin’s 21st century economic renaissance.

The four counties cover less than 5% of the state but have one-third of its population, 44% of its college graduates and almost 40% of Wisconsin jobs, according to the UW-Extension’s Center for Community and Economic Development. The synergy of a great transportation corridor connecting the state’s two largest metropolitan areas seems obvious.

Tom Hefty, the retired head of Blue Cross-Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, made that case 10 years ago when he tried – and failed – to persuade Gov. Jim Doyle to adopt a corridor development plan as part of the state’s economic strategy.

The logic: Milwaukee is the state’s finance and commercial capital. Madison is the political capital and home to a world-class research university. Waukesha County is a teeming entrepreneurial beehive. Already, a good chunk of workers travel back and forth along the corridor. Major educational facilities, including a rising UWM, prepare the workforce.

“You combine an academic powerhouse with a commercial powerhouse and you get job growth,” says Hefty.

Do you think that Wisconsin’s languishing economy could use more jobs? The answer is obvious, but the politics here are deeply dysfunctional. Talk about Mission Impossible. It’s not just Milwaukee vs. Madison, but their shared liberalism is abhorrent to conservative Waukesha County. Lambs will lie down with lions before corridor politicians ever work together.

In that context, Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to kill the $810 million federally funded train service between Milwaukee and Madison is just one more smack-down in that endless grudge match.

But here’s the thing: The corridor is coming together without those feuding politicians.

To read the rest of the story, please go here.

To read a similar argument I made for Chicago-to-Milwaukee connection, please go here.

 

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Explore posts in the same categories: Development, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Politics

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