Now that the people of the United States have rejected the failed candidacy of Gov. Scott Walker, we have an opportunity to shift focus and fix the problems facing Wisconsin. Prior to his 70-day foray into the presidential race, Walker crafted a hastily prepared state budget that was more of a presidential campaign document than one meant to get Wisconsin back on track.
Instead of focusing on issues to help raise his profile among Republican primary voters, it is now time to bring our tax dollars home, accept the $360 million in funding for BadgerCare and use those savings to restore the $250 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System and provide additional funding for our public education system. While Republicans have consistently and repeatedly declined to accept the money to expand BadgerCare, we should focus on an area that has had bipartisan agreement and support for decades, our transportation budget.
I call on Walker to bring the Legislature into special session in order to deal with the transportation funding crisis. What ultimately passed in that budget was $500 million in borrowing with an additional $350 million in bonding that can be released by the Joint Committee on Finance upon the request of the Department of Transportation, an overall cut of $450 million.
As reported by Forward Janesville, “the first $200 million of this bonding was to be released this year upon WisDOT’s request to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance. That request has still not been made, resulting in the disheartening news about the I-39/90 project. We thought that the Legislature had a deal in place to release this funding, and were hoping that some of these funds could be applied to the I-39/90 project. But it is our understanding that some members of the Wisconsin Senate have discouraged WisDOT from requesting this additional funding.”
If Republican senators block the release of the funds, the resulting cut to the transportation program would be $700 million.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, based on input from the Department of Transportation, stated that a $300 million cut over the biennium to DOT’s Major Highway Development Program would delay highway projects throughout the state.
For example, projects involving U.S. Highway 10/441(Outagamie, Calumet and Winnebago counties), State Highway 15 (Outagamie County), U.S. Highway 18/151 (Dane County) and I-39/90 (Rock and Dane counties) would be delayed by two years. The Republicans went even further and slashed the major highway program by an additional $50 million over the biennium. Who knows how long these and other projects would be delayed if the Republican-controlled Finance Committee refuses to release the $350 million it holds in reserves?
The I-39/90 project has long been a priority for our area. The reconstruction and expansion of this 45-mile stretch of I-39/90 between Madison and the Illinois state line will make needed safety improvements, aid state tourism and help create more economic development along the corridor, one of the busiest stretches of highway in the state. According to DOT traffic counts, about 70,000 vehicles a day use the corridor. Nearly 35% of the traffic count comes from heavy trucks.
This project has been talked about for a long time. In 2001, the state funded a study of the project but other projects have been prioritized ahead of it. As a result, Forward Janesville, a 500-member economic development group, formed the I-39/90 Now Coalition in 2010 to help educate people on the importance of the project.
Business leaders realize the importance of this project not only for the local economy but for the entire state as well. The Center for Freight & Infrastructure Research at UW-Madison found that the roadway is responsible for moving $650 million to $800 million worth of commerce each day. The roadway has deteriorating pavement, traffic congestion creates frequent backups, and it has accident rates higher than the statewide average for similar roads. Delaying this project is jeopardizing safety and economic development.
Transportation never has been a partisan issue and shouldn’t be one now. Roads are crumbling and projects are being delayed in areas represented by Democrats and Republicans alike. This is an issue we should be able to work together on and solve. People and businesses in every part of the state deserve a safe and efficient transportation system.