Just Fix It Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Journal editorial: State slows roads, prolongs headaches 10/7/2015

10/07/2015, Wisconsin State Journal – Snarled traffic at higher cost.

That’s what state leaders just delivered to Madison, Janesville, Beloit, Fond du Lac, Plymouth and the Fox Valley by delaying major road projects already under way.

The state Department of Transportation just applied the brakes to five major road projects, including the massive reconstruction of Verona Road on Madison’s Southwest Side, which leads to Epic Systems, the booming health care software giant in Verona.

Workers will keep the orange barrels out and continue rebuilding and expanding Verona Road and the adjacent Beltline, from Seminole Highway to Whitney Way. But the expansion of Verona Road from Raymond Road to McKee Road will be slowed, with completion pushed back two years to 2021.

That means two additional years of congestion and headaches for commuters, as well as more dangerous traffic for everyone who travels the busy corridor. Hundreds of crashes — more than twice the state average for similar stretches of road — have occurred there, according to the DOT. And that was years before work began.

Another project being slowed is the widening of Interstate 39-90, from Madison south to Janesville and Beloit. The expansion from four to six lanes, which began this year, will now last two years long, until 2023.

The lack of money to finish projects on time corresponds with a lack of leadership on state transportation needs. Gov. Scott Walker has repeatedly rejected reasonable increases in user fees, such as a small increase in the state gas tax to keep up with inflation, as well as more innovative solutions, including regional transit authorities.

Instead, the Republican governor has steered the state on a borrowing binge to try to keep road projects going, something the GOP-run Legislature has mostly — and wisely — resisted. Lawmakers reduced Walker’s proposed borrowing for roads in the state budget from $1.3 billion to $500 million, with an additional $350 million possible.

If not for the borrowing, even more projects would run out of fuel. But borrowing to get by is unsustainable. More lawmakers need to pressure the governor for additional revenue from motorists, including big trucks and Illinois tourists.

The longer major road projects — including the widening of Highway 41 and other work in the Fox Valley, and completion of Highway 23 from Fond du Lac to Plymouth — are delayed, the more expensive they become because of inflation.

The slowdowns also hurt the economy. The Transportation Development Association, a coalition of business, labor and local government groups, released a report Tuesday quantifying the lost economic impact from stalled highway construction. The Madison-area projects alone, including the wider interstate to Beloit, would provide a short-term economic impact of $2.1 billion, as well as ongoing benefits to business, the report estimated. More people and products would be able to get where they need to go, quicker and safer.

Those benefits will now be delayed. Wisconsin can and should do better.