I-90/39 picks up speed

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Thursday, June 3, 2010
— While it’s not yet at cruising speed, the proposed expansion of Interstate 90/39 is gaining momentum toward a construction start date in 2015.

State officials said Wednesday an environmental impact study is complete for the $1 billion project that would expand the Interstate to three lanes in each direction between Madison and the state line.

State Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi said he expects the federal government to sign off on the study within 30 days. Then, the project will return to Wisconsin and meet a fork in the road.

Typically, major highway construction projects must be approved and prioritized by the state’s Transportation Projects Commission, which serves at the governor’s call. The TPC, however, hasn’t met during the tenure of Gov. Jim Doyle, who is not seeking re-election this fall.

“It’s no secret that there hasn’t been a TPC,” Busalacchi said at a new conference near the Interstate in Janesville.

The alternative, he said, is a direct piece of legislation for design and construction funding in the state’s next budget bill, which lawmakers will debate next year.

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan of Janesville said Doyle supports the Interstate expansion.

“While I can’t speak for him today, I’ve certainly been encouraged by the discussions we’ve been having,” Sheridan said.

Busalacchi and Sheridan said the state is nearing completion of several significant highway construction projects. That means funding will be available for the local project, they said.

“We do have the funding,” Busalacchi said, adding the federal government would likely pay for 40 to 50 percent of the project now estimated to cost $1.023 billion.

Most of the rest of the money would come from the state’s segregated transportation fund, which is supported by fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees.

Proponents, led by the economic development organization Forward Janesville, have said the expansion is necessary to improve the area’s economic strength. It also will improve safety on the aging infrastructure, they said.

On an average day, 60,000 vehicles travel the Interstate between Madison and the Illinois border, DOT reports show. Projections show that the number of motorists using the route will increase by 50 percent by 2030.

“Congestion will continue to increase to unacceptable levels if nothing is done,” Busalacchi said. “Almost half of the corridor already has a crash rate above the statewide average.”

Busalacchi said 30 percent of the traffic is commercial, as the corridor serves as a main artery for shipping goods in and out of the state. The Interstate, he said, also is a gateway for the state’s $13 billion-a-year tourism industry.

“This project will boost our economy, without a doubt,” said Dan Cunningham, vice president of Forward Janesville. “It will create jobs, both in the short term as people find work in the construction trade and in years to come as the infrastructure improvements attract and grow major employers.”

Last updated: 2:12 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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