Just Fix It Wisconsin

Pushback on plan delaying I-94 work 9/15/2016

9/15/2016, Racine Journal Times – Elected officials in Racine County sharply criticized Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed transportation funding plan for creating more delays on the Interstate 94 north-south project.

Under Walker’s plan, the 2017-19 state budget would allocate no money for the project, which extends from General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee County, through Racine County to the Illinois state line. If approved, several interchange projects, an intersection reconstruction, I-94 repaving and other improvements planned in Racine County would be pushed back.

As a years-long struggle over transportation funding continues, Walker on Thursday touted the plan for including no fee or tax increases and giving
local governments a $65 million increase in aid.

But local officials zeroed in on the Interstate 94 north-south project, putting multiple Republicans at odds with the governor.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said he was promised when delays occurred five years ago that funds for the expansion would be included in the 2017-19 budget.

“Road safety and economic development in Racine and Kenosha County is just as important as in Milwaukee, Rock and Outagamie counties,” Wanggaard said, referring to areas where construction would remain. “I intend to hold people to their word. Taxpayers deserve nothing less.”

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said he was pleased with the increase to local governments, but disappointed about the proposed I-94 delay, saying it would hurt economic development efforts.

He pointed specifically to the DeBack Farms Business Park under development on Highway K near I-94 in Caledonia. He said prospective businesses often ask about the status of the I-94 project, which includes a planned reconstruction of the Highway K interchange.

“One of my priorities is to promote economic development along the strategic I-94 corridor,” Delagrave said in a statement. “The proposed delays make it difficult to attract new investments and retain businesses that depend on properly developed and maintained roads along this critical stretch.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who has also resisted more construction delays on I-94, said in a joint statement with other Republican Assembly leaders the budget request “falls short of addressing the long-term funding crisis in our transportation budget.”

“It is a political solution, not a real solution,” officials said in the statement.

Legislators said more money to support local roads should not come at the expense of delaying other projects, which will result in higher costs and lead to more dramatic fee or tax increases in the future.

The Legislature will take up the budget proposal when it reconvenes in January.

Walker defends plan

In addition to the proposed local funding and lack of tax and fee increases, Walker has emphasized the plan’s reduced borrowing and commitment to other mega-projects besides I-94.

Under the proposal, $122 million would be allocated to other freeway work in southeastern Wisconsin, including the Zoo Interchange and beginning work on the I-94 east-west corridor. An expansion of Interstate 39/90 between Madison and Illinois and work on Highway 10/441 in the Fox Valley would remain on schedule.

But several other projects around the state would also see delays.

On Twitter, Walker challenged opponents of the plan, writing “Those who want to spend more should tell voters where it’s coming from.”

“This budget provides more funding to local governments for their roads and bridges, keeps borrowing at historically low levels, and maintains our no tax or fee increase pledge,” Walker said in a statement. “Good roads and bridges are important to Wisconsin and our economy, and this budget proves you don’t have to raise taxes or fees to maintain a safe and strong transportation network.”

Delagrave praised the increases in transportation funding to local governments, which he said “will help us address many of the necessary maintenance projects and repairs on our roads.”

He pointed to Highway U as an example. The county is considering reconstructing the road from Highway K to 6 Mile Road in Raymond next year, but would like to do the entire stretch to the county line. Extra money could make it easier to do that, Delagrave said.

Several projects planned

In Racine County, the $1.6 billion I-94 north-south project has included a reconstruction of the Highway G interchange in 2009, the Highway 20 interchange last year and the rebuilding of the Highway C bridge over I-94 in 2014.

Future work planned includes a reconstruction of interchanges at Highway 11, Highway K and 7 Mile Road, according to the project website.

Walker’s plan could also delay work on the frontage roads from Highway 20 to Highway KR and a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Highways 20 and C, both of which are considered part of the north-south project.

The DOT had also planned resurfacing I-94 in Racine County, which has seen pavement begin to deteriorate after temporary repairs about three years ago.