Interstate project on track—for now

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Thursday, February 23, 2012
— The Interstate 90/39 expansion project is still on track for a construction start of 2015, but a proposal that would redirect state transportation dollars has caught the attention of Rock County expansion proponents.

Earlier this month, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett unveiled his “Fix It First” plan that would prioritize state funding to local roads instead of major highway projects.

“Now is the time to slow down on building new lanes and take care of what we have,” Barrett said in his annual state of the city address.

Barrett said that 20 years ago, state funds paid for 40 percent of local road maintenance. That contribution is now less than 25 percent, he said.

“I call upon the state to make this investment into improving local infrastructure and helping our local economies. If we do that, everyone wins, including those in the construction trades.”

The state’s current budget includes the widening of a 45-mile stretch of Interstate between the Illinois state line and the Beltline in Madison. Adding a third lane in each direction is expected to take about five years.

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.

Dan Cunningham, a Forward Janesville vice president, responded to Barrett’s proposal in a guest column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Cunningham said funding for major highway projects represent just 11 percent of the state’s budget and are not “unaffordable luxuries.”

Cunningham said Interstate expansion supporters aren’t against local road maintenance. Instead, he said, state dollars should be directed to the projects where they’re most needed.

Expansion of Interstate 90/39 is clearly a needed project, he said.

At the state level, the project is now in the design phase, said Steve Theisen, a communications specialist for the DOT’s Southwest Region.

The design phase includes meetings with local officials and the public to discuss the pending improvements.

The Interstate project is broken into three segments, and design teams for all three are starting their work, he said, adding that a public information meeting on the segment from the Beltline to the Rock County line likely will be held in April.

Cunningham said local lobbying efforts likely will shift to Washington in an effort to ensure that Wisconsin gets federal funding at least at the level at which it sends gas tax dollars to the federal government.

“We want to make sure we get 100 percent of our money back and not be a donor state, and we’ve let our people in Washington know that,” Cunningham said.

As for Barrett’s proposal, Cunningham said it is an idea that is not yet in the form of legislation.

But, Cunningham noted, Barrett is considering a run against Gov. Scott Walker in the recall election, and Barrett’s proposal could be fast-tracked if he enters the race and wins the election.

Interstate expansion has long been Forward Janesville’s top legislative priority. The organization led the formation of the coalition.

Economic development and safety have been the driving force of the group’s push for the widening project.

Last updated: 7:39 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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