Interstate expansion would start in 2015, take five years

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Friday, May 27, 2011
— Expansion of Interstate 90/39 would start in 2015 if Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2011-13 budget is approved.

The 45-mile project between the Beltline in Madison and the Illinois state line was one of several Walker discussed Wednesday with the Transportation Projects Commission.

The commission met Wednesday for just the second time in eight years. The meeting was the first with Walker as chairman.

The commission also met last fall—late in the term of outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle—to approve four major highway projects, including the widening of Interstate 90/39 from two lanes to three.

According to a presentation at Wednesday’s meeting, work would begin on the local project in 2015 and end in 2019, meaning five years of construction on the busy stretch of highway.

In 2010 dollars, the project is expected to cost $715 million, but several transportation officials have estimated it will cost more than $1 billion by the time it’s finished. Funding is expected to come from a combination of the state’s segregated transportation budget, state borrowing and federal aid.

A Madison-based advocacy group wasted no time Wednesday in lambasting the local project as a one of four that will cost state taxpayers more than $2 billion at a time Walker’s proposed budget would cut hundreds of millions of dollars from local road repair and transit services.

“Gov. Walker’s transportation budget is spending gone wild on questionable projects,” Bruce Speight, director of the WISPIRG, said in a news release. “Rather than prioritizing Wisconsin’s existing roads and transit service, Gov. Walker has chosen extravagant and unnecessary ribbon-cutting projects.”

On the I-90/39 expansion, WISPIRG said the traffic count and crash data the Wisconsin Department of Transportation used to support the widening are nearly 10 years old.

“Additionally, WisDOT has inexplicably chosen the most expensive option for construction in every case on this project,” the group said. “Predictions for the cost of this project range from $715 million to $1.5 billion.”

Interstate expansion has been a top legislative priority for Forward Janesville. The organization led the formation of the I-90/39 NOW Coalition, a group of residents, businesspeople and municipal leaders from Beloit, Clinton, Edgerton, Evansville, Janesville and Milton.

Proponents have said the Interstate has become more congested, which in turn has led to more crashes. Now more than ever, they’ve said, the traffic counts and crash data support the expansion.

Proponents also have pushed the project as an economic development tool that will improve the flow of goods and services between existing three-lane segments of the Interstate.

The purpose of Wednesday’s TPC meeting was to give existing and new members an overview of the Major Highway Projects program and a status report on current and proposed transportation projects.

“A smooth and reliable transportation infrastructure is vital to providing goods and services to and through Wisconsin,” Walker said in a news release. “Our goal of allowing the private sector to create 250,000 new jobs by 2015 must be supported by a safe and efficient transportation system, and this commission will aid in that effort.”

Last updated: 5:06 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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