Lawmaker: I-90/39 project could remain on track

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, September 6, 2017

JANESVILLE -- Although the state budget package would delay some major highway projects in the Milwaukee area, one lawmaker working on it said the Interstate 90/39 expansion could remain on track and on time.

In a written statement late Tuesday, state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, praised Gov. Scott Walker and her colleagues for recognizing the massive, 45-mile lane expansion as a “priority” in the state's 2017-19 biennial budget.

“As a strong advocate for the I-39/90 expansion project, I'm thankful my legislative colleagues and Governor Walker recognize the timely completion of the I-39/90 corridor from the state line to Madison is a top priority. The dedicated funding to the major highway program will help keep this project moving forward and on time,” Loudenbeck wrote.

The Gazette was unable to reach Loudenbeck on Wednesday for further comment.

Loudenbeck is a member of the Joint Finance Committee, the legislative budget committee that has had marathon sessions this week to hammer out a budget that is now weeks overdue.

Her statement Tuesday suggests the GOP package would include enough funding in its major highway program to keep large-scale highway projects already in progress running on schedule.

That's despite what Transportation Development Association Director Craig Thompson estimates would be a 15 percent cut to the major highway program proposed under the GOP plan.

Thompson, whose group monitors roads spending statewide, said he's heard assurances from lawmakers that major projects in progress would remain on track in the budget. But he said Wednesday that details of the Republican plan he's seen don't specify any of those projects.

He said observers are waiting to see whether the state would make changes to the fiber of some big highway projects slated over the next two years to keep them on schedule.

“At some point in time, when you have a 15 percent cut, it has to show up somewhere,” Thompson said.

Overall, the GOP plan would balance a $1 billion roads funding gap in part by delaying work on the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee and a section of Interstate 94 near the between the Zoo and Marquette interchanges, according to a Legislative boil down of the proposal released Tuesday.

That comes along with roads borrowing of $402 million—an amount far lower than the state has approved in previous budgets—and another proposal to charge a $75 special fee on hybrid cars.

The I-90/39 expansion is nearly half done, and more than $100 million in lane expansion work is set to roll out between Janesville and Beloit in the coming weeks.

The state Department of Transportation has already awarded major contracts for that work to beef up I-90/39 from four lanes to six between Beloit and Madison and from four lanes to eight through Janesville.

More work to expand the highway's lanes are set to go to bid this winter, according to a DOT master project schedule.

The DOT said in August that work it has slated for the project over the next two years remained on pace, despite a budget stalemate because the state has continued to fund its operations under base level funding set in the last budget, which expired at the end of June. The project is in line to be completed by late 2021, the DOT has said.

Forward Janesville Vice President Dan Cunningham said he's still uncertain what the budget will spell for the I-90/39 expansion, but he said statements such as the one Loudenbeck made Tuesday are “encouraging signs” that the project would stay on track.

Cunningham leads Forward Janesville's government lobbying efforts, and he and other local stakeholders have lobbied for years for the state to find short-term and long-term funding solutions and keep major road projects such as the I-90/39 expansion on schedule.

Cunningham said the DOT landing a $40 million federal grant last year to speed up the Janesville leg of the I-90/39 expansion shows that state lawmakers and local lobbyists aren't the only ones who believe the Interstate expansion is a top priority.

“I think people see that this (I-90/39) is an important gateway,” Cunningham said. “This is the front porch of the state, so this project still matters. It would be an important feather in the state's cap to get it done on time.”

Last updated: 5:42 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2017

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