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Earlier completion announced for part of I-90/39 project


A portion of the Interstate 90/39 expansion project will be completed a year ahead of schedule.

Gov. Scott Walker traveled down the Interstate on Tuesday to make the announcement at the rest area north of Janesville.

Walker said the segment from Kennedy Road on Janesville’s north side to the Rock River bridges near Newville will be completed in fall 2020 instead of 2021.

The segment north of that, which extends to Madison, is already slated to be completed in 2020.

So if Walker’s announcement proves correct, the Interstate will have at least three lanes in each direction—in place of the current four lanes total—from Janesville to Madison by the end of 2020.

The third segment, from the state line to Janesville, is scheduled for completion in fall 2021, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Theisen.

A news release from the governor’s office said the earlier completion date is possible because of lower-than-expected costs.

The earlier completion will allow state government to shift about $70 million to other areas of the project, including the Highway 12/18 Beltline interchange with the Interstate, Walker said.

Walker noted the increase in transportation aid for counties that he promised Monday in La Crosse. He would not say whether he would do the same for municipalities, although he said he would make “similar announcements” in the next few weeks.

Asked how he would pay for the increased transportation aid, Walker said “with our budget.”

He did not elaborate.

Asked about his Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 elections, Walker said Tony Evers has not yet said how he would fund transportation and suggested Evers could be planning a “massive” increase in gasoline, income and property taxes.

Evers’ campaign responded with a statement without saying whether Evers would raise taxes.

“Scott Walker’s tax code has worked great for his special-interest donors and foreign corporations, but it’s left hard-working Wisconsin families to pick up the tab,” the statement reads. “More than one million Wisconsinites have voted to raise their own taxes to fund their public schools because they’ve been devastated by Walker’s education cuts. Five counties and 18 cities have voted to implement a wheel tax because Walker left their roads to crumble. Under a Tony Evers administration, Wisconsin will have a fair tax code that supports and funds the priorities of Wisconsin’s families.”

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Janesville fire chief announces retirement


Fire Chief Randy Banker will retire from the Janesville Fire Department at the beginning of 2019.

In a resignation letter to the city dated Sept. 18, Banker said he plans to retire from his full-time career Jan. 11 after 34 years in fire service.

The Janesville Police and Fire Commission will accept Banker’s resignation from city employment and retirement from the fire service at its meeting Wednesday, according to an agenda.

“It has been both an honor and a privilege to serve the city of Janesville and lead the men and women of the Janesville Fire Department,” Banker wrote in his resignation letter.

“I cannot say enough about the talented 97-member fire department who work tirelessly every day to serve the city with duty, pride, tradition and progress.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Banker said his decision to retire is not related to a contract dispute between the city and the firefighters union, Local 580.

“I have every confidence that we will reach common ground with a labor contract that is fair and equitable for both sides,” Banker said in the statement.

The union issued a news release Friday, saying the city wanted to increase members’ health insurance premiums by 400 percent in retaliation for the union filing a grievance.

The city rejected the union’s interpretation Monday, saying the proposed monthly premiums represent increases of 8 percent to 11 percent.

Union President Jason Daskam said there were indications recently that Banker would retire, saying there was “something in the air.”

“He had a lot of projects in the works,” Daskam said. “To me and to some other firefighters, it seems like he is leaving early in his plans.”

Banker had little to do with the ongoing dispute, Daskam said.

An Edgerton native, Banker has been Janesville’s fire chief since January 2016, according to an earlier Gazette story.

Prior to working in Janesville, Banker spent four years as the deputy chief in Batavia, Illinois. He began his career in Geneva, Illinois, in 1984.

Banker also has served as chief of the Milton Fire Department for nearly a year as part of an intergovernmental agreement between the cites, adopted in early 2017.

The Milton Joint Fire Commission pays one-third of Banker’s salary under the agreement, said Al Hulick, Milton city administrator.

Jon Jennings, a town of Milton representative on the fire commission, said he had little information Tuesday on how the commission would move forward with building a new fire station in Banker’s absence.

In August, the commission asked Banker to create plans and cost estimates for four Milton fire station options. That report was expected to be presented to the commission by February.

The commission will make the best decision on the station regardless of who is chief, Jennings said.

Jennings had no comment on whether the Milton commission will have any role in hiring a new chief.

“Chief has done a good job for Janesville and has been willing to work with the municipalities,” he said.

The Milton Joint Fire Commission plans to discuss its shared administration and contract with Janesville at its Wednesday meeting, according to an agenda.

Daskam said he was disappointed to hear about Banker’s retirement. He said Banker was a good leader and was viewed favorably by firefighters.

“I want to personally thank the residents, employees of the city, elected officials, and the members of both Janesville and Milton fire departments for all their support and outstanding work over the past two and half years,” Banker said in his statement.

Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 26, 2018

Kris Abelmann

Alber “Al” Astin

Kyle W. Baar

Mary Lou Brown

Mary Elizabeth Burke

Stephen H. Gonzalez

William Cecil Hines

Donna K. Louison

Stacey Lynn Schumacher

Joan M. Spruce-Kalla

Margaret Lee Thompson

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GM site redevelopment to center on railroad access


Redevelopment plans unveiled Tuesday show Janesville’s former General Motors plant site will rely heavily on an attribute few area industrial sites have: ready-made railroad infrastructure.

Actually, under “preliminary” plans that owner Commercial Development Company showed off at a public open house, the site will make even greater use of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad and Union Pacific Railroad lines that bisect the 250-acre property.

Tuesday marked the first time the public has gotten a peek at how Commercial Development could market the site when it’s finished clearing what’s left of the more than 4 million-square-foot plant on the northern half of the property.

Under plans revealed at the Rock County Job Center, both railroad companies would improve existing rail lines at the site, and Union Pacific would create a new line that would sweep through the west side of the 112-acre haul-away yard known as the JATCO site.

The idea, Commercial Development and its consultants said, is to turn the site into a set of parcels that could support development of new industries, such as distribution centers that would use the rail infrastructure at the site.

Along with plans for a railroad-centric redevelopment concept, Commercial Development and local architect Angus-Young Associates showed plans to extend Joliet Street so it bisects the GM site and connects to South Jackson Street, linking the site to Center Avenue, a main south-side thoroughfare.

John Fonke, executive vice president of Commercial Development, said he believes parts of the property, including the JATCO site, could be ready to be actively marketed by mid- to late 2019.

The GM site will be renamed “Centennial Industrial Park,” a tip of the cap to GM’s 100 years of history in Janesville. A design for a logo incorporates Art Deco features found on the plant’s original front façade, Angus-Young President Joe Stadelman said.

Submitted image 

Commercial Development Company will rename the former GM plant site Centennial Industrial Park. Its logo incorporates Art Deco elements found on the plant’s original front façade.

The plans unveiled Tuesday are part of Commercial Development’s requirement to give the city a roadmap for redevelopment of the site, and they are a major step as Commercial Development gets ready to market the site as an industrial park.

The proposed redevelopment is pending the city’s receipt and approval of full plans from Commercial Development for a planned-use district. The state Department of Natural Resources must also sign off on an environmental cleanup plan for parts of the site that need it.

Preliminary plans show the GM site would be broken up into multiple parcels, with a possible emphasis on larger manufacturing plants that would draw on rail access at the site.

For instance, plans show the main JATCO site could be split into three redevelopment lots. A rendering shows the JATCO site could house three example buildings—all large industrial facilities between 360,000 square feet and 540,000 square feet.

The potential buildings are all situated so they’d have railroad access.

Fonke said Commercial Development anticipates the bulk of developments would be on the larger side. However, he and Bill Mears, a Janesville broker hired to market the site, said the market ultimately will dictate the size and scope of developments.

“What I can tell you is that you have a lot more (industrial) rail site users that are closer to a half-million square feet than those in the 100,000-square-foot size,” Fonke said.

He called industrial use—particularly industry that’s tied to shipping by rail—the “best and highest use” of the GM site.

Plans also show a curved portion of new rail spur linking two Wisconsin & Southern Railroad lines that serve the main plant site. Stadelman said the east-west Wisconsin & Southern line through the main plant area will be straightened for improved access.

Fonke said rail improvements will allow the two separate railroad companies to “co-mingle” on lines throughout the huge property.

Stadelman said Union Pacific considers the GM site unusual because it’s one of the few industrial redevelopment sites in the region with rail infrastructure already in place.

He said a Union Pacific official has told him the company considers the GM site “the third best (industrial) rail site in the Midwest.”

Fonke said Commercial Development intends to complete all environmental cleanup necessary to ready the entire GM site for market because the land will be easier to sell once it’s cleaned up.

Although the entire site is being listed for sale for a combined $15.7 million, Fonke said it’s more likely Commercial Development could sell it in two pieces: the main GM plant site and the JATCO site.

But depending on interest from industries and how the DNR requires his company to handle cleanup, Fonke said it’s possible Commercial Development could focus cleanup on individual parcels that could readily be sold for specific uses.