In a rare split with the Evers administration, Mandela Barnes says he opposes I-94 expansion

MADISON – Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes publicly distanced himself this week from Gov. Tony Evers over expanding a section of I-94 to eight lanes in Milwaukee.

“I can’t say that I’m the person who’s going to be at the press conference announcing whatever comes as a result if it includes expansion,” Barnes told WUWM-FM (89.7). “That just won’t be me. I won’t be present for that one.”

Evers’ Department of Transportation has recommended expanding I-94 from six lanes to eight between 16th and 70th streets. Barnes said he supports repairing that section of I-94 but not expanding it, noting that’s the same stance he took when he was a state lawmaker.

Barnes did not criticize Evers and the two Democrats remain close, but his comments mark a rare instance of Barnes parting ways with the administration. Barnes is considering running for U.S. Senate next year as Evers prepares for reelection.

Evers included the expansion in the state budget he introduced in February, and Republicans who control the Legislature have said they back it, too. The project is expected to cost about $1 billion.

But the Department of Transportation this month announced it would do a more extensive review of the project, putting off federal approval until at least late 2022. That’s about a year later than initially expected. 

That delay will give project opponents more time to try to stop the expansion. Barnes said in the radio interview that Evers’ administration would listen closely to the public and take into account any concerns as it finalizes the project.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.