Just Fix It Wisconsin

Milwaukee BizTimes Commentary: If we want to improve our roads, it’s going to cost us 10/3/2016

10/3/2016, Milwaukee BizTimes – My 10-year-old son and I were driving to Madison recently to attend a University of Wisconsin football game.

Just east of Johnson Creek, we hit the worst traffic I have ever encountered on the way to a Badgers game, and I’ve had season tickets for years.

pothole-roads-shutterstock_275785736For several minutes, traffic barely moved. “I wish I-94 had three lanes in each direction all the way from Milwaukee to Madison,” I thought. It’s only two lanes each way from Pewaukee to Cottage Grove.

“Why don’t we take the train?” my son asked. I explained to him you can’t take a train to Madison. Of course, Gov. Scott Walker sent $810 million in federal funds back to Washington when he cancelled the high-speed rail project.

Finally, after about half an hour of moving at a snail’s pace, traffic opened up and moved at a fairly normal speed west of Johnson Creek. I never saw any clear reason for the slowdown.

Our state’s transportation infrastructure is in need of a major upgrade. Most of the freeway system in southeastern Wisconsin was built in the 1950s and ’60s and needs to be rebuilt. Some of that has been done in recent years. The Marquette Interchange ($810 million) in downtown Milwaukee and the Mitchell Interchange ($270 million) have been rebuilt and work on rebuilding the Zoo Interchange ($1.7 billion) has been ongoing since 2012.

There’s much more that needs to be done. I-94 needs to be rebuilt between downtown and the Zoo Interchange, at a cost of $850 million. The $1.9 billion expansion and reconstruction of I-94 between Milwaukee and Illinois is only partially complete. I-43 needs to be widened north of Milwaukee ($560 million).

And those are just the projects for southeastern Wisconsin.

The state relies heavily on gas tax revenue to pay for road projects, but does not have enough money to pay for all the work it needs to do. Walker has refused to increase the gas tax or registration fees. He and Republicans in the Legislature have clashed over how much to borrow for road projects.

Outstate legislators have complained that too much money is spent on huge projects in the Milwaukee area.

Under his latest transportation plan, Walker proposes putting more funds into local roads and existing highways and delaying some major projects, including the Zoo Interchange and the already delayed I-94 project between Milwaukee and Illinois.

The plan includes less borrowing than in the current budget and no gas tax or registration fee increase. Some Republican legislators are praising that approach, but others are complaining that needed road projects are getting delayed.

Nobody wants to pay more in gas taxes or vehicle registration fees, and the idea of a toll road is heresy in Wisconsin. But we have to make a choice: either we pay more or we will have to live longer with insufficient roads.

On our way home from the Badgers game, my son and I ran into more traffic at the zipper merge in the Zoo Interchange. Walker wants to delay its completion until 2022. There is no ideal option.