State DOT proposes two-year delay in Interstate widening project
JANESVILLE Improvements to a key transportation link through Rock County could be delayed by two years.
The state Department of Transportation is requesting to delay a project to widen Interstate 90/39. A variety of interests have said the project could spur economic growth here.
The request must pass through the state budget process, where Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature will ultimately decide the project’s fate.
A Walker spokesman confirmed the department asked for the delay but did not say whether the governor will support it.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said in an email to The Gazette on Friday that the state’s transportation fund has been raided in the past, resulting in shortfalls that the Department of Transportation is now dealing with.
“With that said, agency budget requests are the first step. The governor will introduce a complete budget next year, and one of his priorities will be investing in the state’s infrastructure,” Werwie said.
Governors usually reveal their biennial budget proposals in February.
Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, hadn’t heard of the proposal, but he noted that the department has been campaigning for increased funding.
Cullen said he suspects the request to delay this and other major highway projects is calculated to convince the Legislature to give the department more money.
“I would not take what they saying very seriously until we know what the budget looks like (in February),” Cullen said.
Businesses and local governments have supported the project as a way of boosting the area’s economic fortunes.
The project would address traffic congestion by widening I-90/39 from two lanes in each direction to three, except for the Avalon Road-Highway 26 stretch, which would grow to four lanes in each direction.
The 45-mile widening of I-90/39 from the Illinois border to the Beltline in Madison had been expected to start in 2015 and end in 2021. Officials have estimated the project’s cost at more than $1 billion.
Cullen said he does not support shifting money from the general fund to the DOT, as was done in the last legislative session, because that would cut into money available for education, health care and other important services.
Cullen suggested the state should scrutinize all of the department’s projects and proposed projects and decide which are truly needed. He cited the now-scrapped proposal to link Highway 11 to Highway 14 on Janesville’s west side as one questionable project.
“You have to wonder who is watching the candy story here,” Cullen said.
While the Republicans control the Legislature, Cullen said the Interstate project might not be a partisan issue because the Interstate is vital to the whole state, since it is part of the major route between Chicago and the Twin Cities.
Cullen noted the Department of Transportation has its own funding sources, including the gasoline tax and federal highway funding, which is another reason he opposes a shift of money from the state’s general fund.
Walker opposes an increase in the gas tax, Werwie said, but “addressing the deficit facing the fund will require a healthy public debate in the months ahead.”
Werwie declined to comment on the possibility of toll roads, a potential source of new revenue. Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, recently raised that possibility.
The DOT also is proposing to delay other major projects, including the Zoo Interchange reconstruction in Milwaukee.