Paul Ryan confident lawmakers will reach deal to fund Interstate expansion
JANESVILLE—Lawmakers will reach a deal on federal funding for the Interstate 90/39 project, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a meeting with The Gazette Editorial Board on Friday.
“I do believe we'll get a solution,” Ryan said.
The $950 million project to widen the highway is threatened by Congress's inability to pass a long-term transportation funding bill that would help pay a portion of the project's costs, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said.
The construction to widen the highway from four to six or eight lanes between the Illinois border and Madison is a “high priority” for the state, Ryan said.
“I don't think the state would knock it off its priority list,” Ryan said.
Nobody wants to see an insolvent highway trust fund, and there's ways to avoid that, Ryan said.
Ryan helped write bills that would create a mechanism to use royalties and leases from fracking efforts for the highway trust fund.
“I think it's a great funding source. We've had incredible discoveries just in the last few years,” Ryan said.
Those include discoveries on such private lands as the Permian Basin in Texas, which Ryan compared to Saudi Arabia.
These oil- and gas-rich lands can be found on federal lands, too, Ryan said.
The problem lies with the administration shrinking federal production on federal lands, Ryan said.
“If we can get the administration to allow exploration to occur, which is done in a very environmentally safe way, that could be a huge revenue raiser for the highway trust fund,” Ryan said.
With the number of ideas that can be passed to “top off” the highway trust fund, Ryan said he doesn't foresee any big disruptions in construction.
Heavy construction is set to start next year and continue into 2021. The highway's traffic count is expected to grow to more than 100,000 cars a day by 2040, Foxx has said.
About 25 percent of the state's transportation budget comes from federal sources, state Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb has said.
Foxx has said if a deal isn't reached on the funding bill, projects like the Interstate 90/39 expansion could be delayed or perhaps never get done.
Ryan is optimistic.
“We put together an agreement last August, we'll do it again,” he said.