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Coalition will seek expanded Interstate

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JAMES P. LEUTE
February 10, 2010
— A local coalition is gearing up to make the expansion of Interstate 90/39 a priority for the state commission that determines which highway projects get done and when.

Forward Janesville is forming the I-39/90 NOW Coalition in support of the expansion of the Interstate from four to six lanes from the Illinois border to Madison.


Its goal is to have 1,000 coalition members by the end of the month.


“It’s something that we’ve been thinking about for some time,” said Dan Cunningham, a Forward Janesville’s vice president. “Now we’re lining up partners to help us out.”


Cunningham said the expansion would result in jobs and long-term economic growth, as well as much-needed safety improvements.


“This is the major north-south route entering our state,” he said. “The data, from both a traffic count and safety perspective, shows a ridiculous need for the expansion.”


State Department of Transportation traffic counts in 2002 for the Beloit-to-Madison segment range from a high of 59,800 cars at the state line to a low of 43,400 between the Highway 51 intersection and County N. The average traffic count for the entire segment was 50,454.


DOT projections indicate the segment’s traffic counts will average nearly 80,000 vehicles by 2030. At that rate, the majority of the segment will be at capacity with the potential for significant breakdowns in traffic flow.


The same DOT projection shows that a third lane in each direction would allow the roadway to operate at or near the free-flow speed and absorb minor incidents without traffic backups.


Cunningham said the 45-mile segment built in the late 1950s doesn’t meet the DOT’s safety standards. The stretch averages 608 crashes a year, more than one-third of which result in injuries and fatalities.


The route also has had several high-profile public safety incidents, including a two-day shutdown during a blizzard in February 2008, Cunningham said.


The unsafe, crowded section of Interstate also hinders the area’s economic competitiveness, he said.


A six-lane route from the state line to Madison eventually would connect other six-lane sections, Cunningham said, and would make it easier for local manufacturers and their outgoing and incoming shipments.


“It’s all about safety, jobs and competitiveness and getting to the point where Wisconsin is in the game,” he said.


The Beloit-Madison expansion, once pegged at $715 million, has been on the table for years. But it is not on the state’s six-year plan that runs from through 2013.


It has, however, been categorized as a major project for the state’s Transportation Project Commission, which prioritizes road projects and essentially puts them on a timetable for completion. The commission has yet to list the I-90/39 expansion as a priority project, which means at this point it is many years away.


Cunningham said the coalition hopes to make the project a priority and land it on the commission’s agenda.



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