Just Fix It Wisconsin

Racine Journal Times Editorial: All options should be on the table for Interstate 94 4/27/2017

4/27/2017, Racine Journal Times – “It’s time to finish the job.”

That was the message in a report in Sunday’s Journal Times from Matt Montemurro, president and chief executive officer of Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce, regarding the completion of the Interstate 94 north-south project. The message was directed at Gov. Scott Walker and the state Legislature.

We couldn’t agree more.

Having watched Amazon.com set up shop alongside I-94 in Kenosha, we can picture the announcements, in the coming months and years, of businesses ready to relocate to the DeBack Farms Business Park, under development on Highway K near I-94 in Caledonia.

“We have watched the number of new businesses relocating to Kenosha, where the Interstate has been rebuilt and expanded, and we believe Racine is poised to undergo the same kind of economic boom,” Montemurro said.

Beyond our obvious interest in growing Racine County’s economy, there’s the importance of I-94 to the Badger State as a whole. If it’s coming into Wisconsin on 18 wheels, more than likely it’s coming up I-94, whether it heads west by the Milwaukee County Zoo or continues north through the Marquette Interchange.

Gov. Walker was noncommittal on the north-south project when he was in Racine County recently for a bill signing, saying: “For us, we want it to keep moving forward. If we can put more resources in this budget, that would certainly be a priority for us.” On Monday, the governor said he didn’t think an increase in vehicle-related taxes or fees was necessary to address the transportation budget deficit, that the state’s road to-do list could be handled through the general fund.

“I’m not proposing nor do I think we’re going to have a gas tax or vehicle registration fee as a part of this budget,” he told reporters. Walker said he had “no interest” in higher vehicle registration fees and he knew of no one in the Legislature who was talking about it.

But Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, Republican co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, said Monday that fees were “definitely” under consideration.

“I say everything is on the table,” she said.

Exactly right, Sen. Darling. All options should be on the table. We have an outdated highway funding formula based in part on gasoline consumption, which does not account for highly fuel-efficient cars or cars which run, in whole or in part, on electricity.

It may require some unpleasant choices, choices that members of the state Republican Party — which includes the governor and a majority in both houses of the Legislature — won’t like, since it may involve raising taxes or fees, or both. It may require a willingness to introduce toll roads, as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has proposed, something that some of us in Wisconsin tend to see as “an Illinois thing.”

But it will require action, and action now. I-94 is too important, too vital to Wisconsin’s economy to be put on the back burner.