Just Fix It Wisconsin

Thanks for 39/90. But what’s next? 9/17/2016

9/17/2016, Beloit Daily News – PEOPLE IN ROCK COUNTY should be pleased — particularly any of them who regularly travel to Madison and back — with the announcement this week by Gov. Scott Walker. He is earmarking dollars in his next budget to keep the widening and rebuild of Interstate 39/90 on schedule. Under that current timetable the project should be done by 2021.

This work is badly needed and will be good for the entire state.

For good reason, Beloit calls itself the Gateway to Wisconsin. It’s on the bridge overpass for drivers to see when they first enter the state. There’s a vested interest in that entryway being a good experience.

IT’S NOT. ILLINOIS did its part the past few years so drivers heading north approach the Wisconsin state line cruising comfortably in three new smooth lanes of traffic.

At the state line those drivers immediately bottleneck into two old lanes. Count yourself lucky if you have never experienced that particular geography on a summer Friday afternoon and evening. Brake lights flash as too many cars and trucks try to squeeze into too little space. Traffic backs up, sometimes for miles. It’s a wonder somebody doesn’t get killed there every week.

Not to mention, by the way, the black eye to Wisconsin’s welcoming reputation as visitors’ first impression of the state and our community turns out to be a traffic jam.

Because of funding the I-39/90 rebuild has been in jeopardy almost since Day One. The governor’s decision to commit to making it a top priority is both welcome and necessary.

HAVING SAID THAT, other parts of his transportation plan continue to be problematic. There’s a simple reason for that: Wisconsin doesn’t have enough money to go around and meet transportation and infrastructure needs.

So the budget calls for delaying a number of important projects, starting with the zoo interchange in Milwaukee. That’s the biggest, longest and most expensive project on the state’s docket. Anyone who has driven in that area in recent years has first-hand knowledge that it’s a colossal mess. Apparently, it will be a colossal mess for quite awhile longer.

A number of other key projects also will be set back, from Madison to the Fox River Valley. Elsewhere, the plan calls for concentrating on basic maintenance of main roads and bridges, a nod toward attempting to slow further deterioration.

As for secondary routes … not much.

WISCONSIN’S SYSTEM FOR funding highway work is not adequate and state officials know it. In fact, on two previous occasions Walker asked Department of Transportation leaders to bring him plans to deal with the problem. When DOT presented the plans, including ways to increase revenues to come closer to meeting needs, the governor immediately tossed the recommendations into the circular file.

He ran on a pledge not to raise taxes or increase fees, so no hike in the fuel tax or higher fees or tolls or anything else.

That’s all well and good. No one wants to pay a dollar more.

Still, roads and highways and bridges clearly are a state responsibility. Read between the lines of the budget and the message is that Wisconsin can’t afford to carry out that responsibility. It’s hard to call that sound leadership.

Already, Speaker Robin Vos and others in the legislature are making noises about re-doing the transportation budget with an eye toward crafting a sustainable way to support the needs. We encourage legislators to act of their own accord. Walker is not going to take the lead, perhaps for reasons of frugality or perhaps with an eye toward a re-election bid in 2018. Either way, Wisconsin needs better roads and a sustainable way to pay for it. That will be up to the legislature.