Just Fix It Wisconsin

Kelley: Keeping freeway projects on schedule is vital 9/14/2016

9/14/2016, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – The Waukesha County Business Alliance is a private, member-driven organization that has been the voice of business in Waukesha County since its founding in 1918 as the Waukesha Association of Commerce. We’ve grown and joined forces with others since then, and now, with more than 1,000 members, the alliance is a strong driving force for ensuring the region’s economic vitality.

A key factor in maintaining a vibrant economy is a solid transportation infrastructure. Our employees need to get to and from work. Tourists need to be able to get to our many attractions. The goods manufactured here need to get to market, and the raw materials needed to produce them need to be transported to Waukesha County.

In fact, a staggering one in five of all the jobs in Wisconsin are along the southeast Wisconsin network of freeways. The condition of our roads is a vital component of our area’s economic development success. And our businesses know it.

In August of last year, the alliance and the Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington (WOW) Workforce Development Board sent a survey to 1,673 area businesses. A total of 335 businesses responded to the survey, which was a respectable 20% response rate. Respondents included representatives from each of Waukesha County’s 37 municipalities, a wide range of business sectors and companies sized from the self-employed to operations with more than 1,000 employees.

That survey showed businesses place a high value on infrastructure. A whopping 88% rated local streets and highways as either important or very important to their success.

As we all know, several major freeways in our area have reached the end of their lifespan and need to be reconstructed. Chief among them are: the “North Leg” of the Zoo Interchange (US 45 north to North Ave./Burleigh); I-43 within Milwaukee and north to Highway 60 in Grafton; I-94 between the Mitchell Interchange and the Illinois-Wisconsin border; I-94 between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges; and I-894 between the Mitchell, Hale and Zoo interchanges.

In Wisconsin, most of our interstates were built in the 1950s and 1960s. The undeniable fact of the matter is they have reached the end of their service lives and need to be reconstructed. Because of the cost and massive scope of the undertaking, planning for this effort began more than a decade ago. For the sake of not just the region but the health of the entire state’s economy, they must proceed.

While these roads do not run through Waukesha County, our customers, tourists, employees, employers and manufactured goods rely on them every day. Moreover, there are several projects within Waukesha County, including the maintenance of our existing roads, that need to be completed. I encourage the governor and lawmakers to keep these projects on schedule so that our region can not just survive, but prosper.

We need look no further than Amazon’s facility in southern Kenosha County and the forthcoming development of Ikea at the Drexel Interchange in Oak Creek for evidence that businesses make siting decisions based on access to interstates. We can’t let our system crumble.

I am hopeful that lawmakers will come to a long-term, sustainable solution that provides us with a dependable infrastructure at a price we can afford. With a solid transportation infrastructure in place, Waukesha County and our entire region will be poised to thrive.