This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.


It was the most controversial issue in Franklin during 2010.

Franklin alderman Tim Solomon told me it was “a no brainer.”

Sorry, Alderman Solomon. I don’t think so.

The costly question decided in 2010 was whether Franklin should toss in $500,000, half a million bucks to support an interchange at Drexel Avenue. It marked one of the few times I sided with liberal alderman Kristen Wilhelm and not conservative alderman Steve Olson.

The back and forth, back and forth debate finally came to a showdown in May 2010 in Franklin. On May 1, 2010, I blogged that the
Drexel Interchange policy and process was flawed:

How Not to Govern 101

There are just so many things about today’s tie vote by the Franklin Common Council, broken by Mayor Tom Taylor to approve funding for a Drexel Avenue Interchange.

Let’s start with the policy.

Is the interchange even necessary? Proponents in my view have not made a solid case it’s needed.

Job creation? Supporters have claimed thousands of jobs will be generated from the project. Sounds like Doyle-ese to me. Our governor made fast and free forecasts about thousands and thousands of jobs that would be created from the high speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison. The real # is 55 permanent jobs.

Where is the fact-based data, where is the cost-benefit analysis that shows economic impact including jobs specifically for Franklin?

The entire project would be located in Oak Creek.

I honestly believe that some aldermen fell for the, HEY, IT’S TAX INCREMENTAL FINANCING (TIF) money. HEY, IT WON’T KICK IN UNTIL 2013.


Pushing our spending out into future years is the kind of foolish budgeting trick that has gotten my employer, the state of Wisconsin, in deep, deep fiscal trouble.

And I’m sorry but I just don’t see the groundswell of support for this project. Have people been knocking down the doors at City Hall screaming, “BUILD THE INTERCHANGE!! BUILD THE INTERCHANGE!! LET’S BAIL OUT OAK CREEK!!

The process

Most often the average citizen doesn’t care. He/she just wants results. I think that’s changing, however.

Remember, Franklin officials had months to figure this out and take a stand prior to today’s DOT-imposed deadline. So what did they do?

They noticed today’s meeting on a gorgeous, sunny, 80-degree late-April afternoon. Who was paying attention? Who cared?

They met on a beautiful 70-degree SATURDAY AFTERNOON. Again, who was paying attention? Who cared?

I’m told a little over a dozen private citizens attended today’s special meeting. The rest were highly concerned Oak Creek officials.

Hmmmm. Ramming through key legislation at the last minute. Haven’t we read that headline a lot the past couple of weeks?

It’s interesting that today I spoke with real estate agent who said it’s common knowledge in the market and industry that Franklin is over-taxed. You know why? Because we can’t say no when it comes to spending.

Hopefully I am wrong about the Interchange and Franklin will benefit greatly. At the moment, call me skeptical.

Despite my disappointment, having said all that, city officials are still light years ahead of the deer in headlights bunch at the Franklin School Board.

A few days later, I received an E-newsletter from Franklin alderman Kristen Wilhelm who, I was stunned, voted against the interchange:


Here is the update from the Saturday Special Council meeting, which was called by Alderman Olson and Solomon in response to the DOT May 1st Drexel Interchange cost share deadline. Below is the motion with an interpretation and an explanation from my point of view. I think you’ll find this interesting if you can get through it all.

Alderman Solomon moved and Alderman Olson seconded to approve, in response to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation stated May 1, 2010 deadline, and to authorize the Mayor, City Clerk and Director of Finance and Treasurer to execute and deliver a State/Municipal Agreement for a Highway Improvement Project: 27th Street (STH 241) with the Department of Transportation, containing the Department’s standard terms and conditions and providing estimated costs and that a separate Municipal agreement shall address further Municipal cost share for the 27th Street Project, and further providing for lighting improvements within the City of Franklin, with the understanding and provision that: i) the lighting costs of $500,000 to be paid thereunder would otherwise be the responsibility of the Department of Transportation under standard cost sharing requirements, and the City of Oak Creek agrees that the lighting costs payment is in full satisfaction of any City of Franklin obligation under Article IV. of that certain June, 2009 Memorandum of Understanding with Oak Creek; ii) the $500,000 to be paid thereunder qualifies as project costs to be paid by tax increment for the applicable Tax Incremental District(s); iii) the Wisconsin Department of Transportation agrees that this extraordinary one-time lump sum payment shall not be increased and shall not be due until the commencement of the 27th Street project no earlier than 2013, and that the Department of Transportation shall obtain the current intended timely construction of the Drexel Avenue Interchange without municipal cost share funding from the City of Franklin.

The vote was 3-3, Motion passed 4 - 3 (Mayor Taylor breaking the tie).

Basically the motion means Franklin will use TIF funds to pay $500,000 (.5 M) for lighting on 27th Street, knowing this cost would have been paid by the DOT, but it allows the DOT to shift the amount of their 27th Street cost obligations toward constructing the I-94 Drexel Interchange in Oak Creek. This swap was arranged because Franklin TIF dollars cannot be used in another community. An important point to remember here is that the DOT would have paid for the 27th Street lighting. The $500,000 of Franklin money is in essence a contribution to the I-94 Drexel Interchange.

This is a Federal US Highway and the entire Interchange is in Oak Creek. At this point, the DOT is committed to improving Drexel Avenue to 4 lanes heading EAST, deeper into Oak Creek, but NOT WEST toward 27th Street and Franklin. There is a plan for Oak Creek to do this westward improvement, but no commitment or funding exists. Our city should not pay to get a lesser level of service. Our $500,000 contribution, to an improvement on a federal interstate highway in another city, should at least provide benefits to us in terms of a commitment to Drexel Avenue improvements in the direction of our border business district (27th Street).

This action was far from perfect for Franklin taxpayers; therefore I was NOT able to support the motion. I won’t be too critical of my colleague’s vote; after all I know the "idea" was to support economic development and I do have to work with them in the future. However as I see it, the economic train is headed toward Oak Creek on the back of your wallets because the DOT will construct the interchange and eastward Drexel Avenue improvements, but there is no timeline or official commitment from Oak Creek on improving the westward section of Drexel to 27th Street and Franklin.

I brought these points up in council and asked HOW LONG would Franklin have to wait with a less-than-functional Drexel Avenue toward 27th Street and there was no concrete answer. I was told to "have faith" in vague and un-funded plans. Even with "faith" the question still remains as to WHEN?

While many see the Interchange as bringing economic development to the 27th St corridor, without a wider westward Drexel it may just do the opposite for Franklin. Presently, Franklin is well served by College, Rawson and Ryan Interchanges and the 27th St. exit. Businesses need traffic to survive. Funneling traffic away from these exits will drain customers from Franklin taxpaying businesses. Here is the economic impact statement from the DOT’s report:

DOT REPORT-Changes in Travel Patterns

I-94 is already a well-established travel route. If capacity is added to the study-area freeway system, more drivers may use the freeway system as opposed to local roads. A new interchange with I-94 at Drexel Avenue and a full interchange with I-94 at 27th Street would change travel patterns. More drivers would use Drexel Avenue, and less would use Ryan and Rawson Avenues (see Section 4.3, Transportation Impacts and Section 4.2.1, Indirect Effects).

According to Alderman and Finance Chair Tim Solomon, Franklin has already invested $15M in the 27th St Corridor without funding from Oak Creek even though they see some benefit. All of the I-94 Drexel Interchange is in Oak Creek. Had we let the market demand drive the construction of the Interchange, the DOT would not have required any municipal cost share. This is based on DOT policy that roadway reconstruction is paid 100 percent if the local traffic is not more than 40 percent of the traffic.

In the end I was able to get a second motion that in essence directed negotiations with Oak Creek for an answer or official commitment regarding Drexel Avenue improvements. It would have made more sense for an agreement to have been put in place (as far back as 2006) PRIOR to the commitment of .5M of your money. This is three times the cost of tornado sirens, which the city has dithered about for over a decade. The same amount of money could have provided impressive benefits in increased police, fire and other city services; more direct benefits to you the taxpayer than dubious projects claiming to bring 40,000 jobs, which is more than the population of Franklin. Let’s all hope Oak Creek is capable of coming through very shortly with funding for the reconstruction of westward Drexel Avenue.

As regular readers know, I am all for economic development. But I also am a strong believer in common sense. Franklin, that spends money hand over fist, did so in this case with the hope and prayer that it will provide a path to great $$$ for the city.

Oh, really?

And when those cars get off at Drexel, tell me which of the dozen or so primo restaurants they will dart to? 

Someone please tell me the superb Franklin shopping destinations those motorists will make a beeline for?

I’m listening.

No brainer?

Sorry, Tim Solomon.

A no-brainer to vote …………NO!

As part of this entry of the top Franklin stories of the year, since we’re talking infrastructure, I would include this story that isn’t sexy and not all that interesting, but seriously is great economic news for Franklin and could lead to substantial growth.




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