Forward Janesville plans Washington trip

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Jim Leute
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

JANESVILLE—A push for federal highway dollars to support the expansion of Interstate 90/39 will top the agenda when a group of Rock County business and community interests visits Washington, D.C., in February.

Forward Janesville, the community's private economic development organization, is organizing the three-day trip.

“It's time we did this,” said Dan Cunningham, Forward Janesville's vice president of government relations. “A lot of communities do it, and we've done it with trips to Madison. Now it's time that we reach up to the next level.”

Cunningham said nearly 20 people have signed up for the trip, which costs $1,000. He expects to have a group of about 30.

Putting Janesville and Rock County on the radar of federal lawmakers will benefit the community in the long run, he said. While lawmakers routinely visit Forward Janesville in Janesville, it's important to solidify relationships with the state's delegation and their staffers on their own turf, he said.

“This trip will help us to establish positive and friendly relationships with members of Congress and their staffs that will allow for quick action in times of need,” Cunningham said. “It's just about being involved in government.

“You can't underestimate that face-to-face contact. It's critical.”

Topping the group's agenda in Washington will be the federal highway bill, Cunningham said.

The current highway bill, known by the acronym MAP-21, expires at the end of September 2014. Without a new reauthorization bill, federal infrastructure investment falls to zero in 2015, at least theoretically.

In the past, Congress has been unable to craft an acceptable bill on schedule and has instead relied on repeated extensions to cover funding while it worked out the next reauthorization.

It's uncertain if that will happen again.

“We now need a federal road bill in place to make sure Wisconsin gets its share of highway dollars,” Cunningham said. “While most of the I-90/39 project will be state funded, there's a significant share of federal dollars involved, and most of it will be needed after 2015.

“That's why the reauthorization of MAP-21 is so critical.”

Cunningham said the group plans to reach out to Wisconsin Reps. Thomas Petri and Reid Ribble, who serve on a committee involved with the highway bill's reauthorization.

Other issues include implementation of the Affordable Care Act, federal tax policy and immigration reform.

“We need to weigh in on these issues, and face-to-face contact is the way to make sure that our message is heard,” Cunningham said.

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