Sep 22, 201611:18 AMTransportation Matters
with Craig Thompson
For road projects we need to ask: If not now, when?
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Wisconsin’s interstates are neither decorative nor frivolous. A well functioning I-94 or I-90 is not akin to getting granite countertops or adding a sunroom as some have suggested.
Our parents and grandparents built America’s interstate system in the 1950s and 60s. It was built to last 50 years. It accommodated the most efficient goods movement in the world.
Many stretches of this system are now at the end of their useful life and need to be rebuilt. That is an expensive endeavor with which every state is grappling. It can’t all be done at once. But this rebuild does need to be carried out through a sound, understandable, and sustainable plan.
In Wisconsin, the Marquette Interchange was the first major step in this rebuild. While expensive, it was completed under budget and ahead of schedule and crashes on that interchange have gone down nearly 50%. I-94 from the Illinois border through Kenosha was another step. That project was also expensive but has fueled an explosion in that area highlighted by the 1-million-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center that employs more than 1,500 full-time workers.
Numerous sections of this more than 60-year-old interstate system are waiting in the queue to be rebuilt. One of those sections is I-94 in Racine County. This three-lane stretch of outdated interstate is a doughnut hole between four lanes in Kenosha and Milwaukee. The busiest interchange in the state — the Zoo — still has the north leg to be rebuilt. I-94 in front of Miller Park is sandwiched in between the Marquette and the Zoo interchanges. I-43 North of Milwaukee lingers, as well, despite complaints from motorists comparing the drive to riding on a washboard.
In the spring of 2015, WisDOT put together a plan called “Mobilize to Modernize,” where they proposed a schedule under which the Southeast Freeway System would be rebuilt within 15 years. As they put it, “get in and get out.” Oh, and by the way, they estimated it would save the taxpayers $4.9 billion in costs related to travel time, maintenance, operations, and safety. Ah, a light at the end of the tunnel where we don’t see orange. Wouldn’t that be nice?
We also need to realize that the southeast interstate system, while critical, is but one part of Wisconsin’s transportation system. We have a network of over 110,000 miles of interstate, state, and local roads in Wisconsin. Over 90% of the lane miles are local roads. These local roads comprise the first and last mile that our agriculture products and manufactured goods move over — often before they traverse our interstates.