Walker vows to complete I-39/90 work

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BELOIT — As state lawmakers look to address glaring infrastructure needs and internal issues within the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday the Interstate 39/90 extension project will be seen through to completion.

Walker made his comments Wednesday after touring the Hendricks CareerTek facility, when he was asked about his latest state budget that would allocate $6.1 billion for existing and ongoing transportation projects across the state.

The total transit budget is set to include a $40 million increase in general transportation aid to counties and local municipalities. When his second term ends, he said, the state will have allocated $24 million for state municipalities, $3 million more than former Gov. Jim Doyle’s allocations.

Active highway projects, including the I-39/90 expansion, will remain on schedule, Walker said. A total of nearly $700 million will be allocated from the transit budget to keep all projects on track.

“We’ve made a commitment to finish off this project long before this budget for the extension of I-39/90 from the state line all the way north into Dane County,” Walker said. “That will be completed within this budget.”

The southern and central segments of the project — set to encompass Beloit, Janesville and Edgerton — could be completed between 2017 and 2022, according to the project’s website. A business meeting was recently held to discuss the central segment near Janesville, following an April 2016 meeting over the southern Beloit section.

The plan will eventually update 11 outdated interchanges along the corridor to alleviate safety concerns. The major expansion project is also set to expand the interstate to eight lanes from Avalon Road north to the WIS-26 interchange to fall in line with future traffic flows. Broader extensions will see the interstate expand from four to six lanes throughout the corridor, according to the website.

A scathing state audit from last month found WisDOT dramatically underestimated the costs of its major highway projects, and did not manage expenses within the department. The audit claims the department underestimated 16 ongoing highway projects by a total of nearly $3.1 billion, while not keeping track of inflation and unplanned expenses to balloon each project’s cost. The audit claimed it would take $772.5 million to complete all 19 major projects in the state.

“The overwhelming amount of money in this budget for transportation will go towards fixing existing infrastructure, so that means no new projects that haven’t been queued up before,” Walker said in response to the audit.

At a hearing held Tuesday in Madison state leaders called for major changes to the department from the audit’s recommendations. The audit suggests altering project management practices; how the department calculates state costs; and develop a database to track project costs and estimates as projects progress.

Transit officials, including the state’s new transportation secretary Dave Ross, said the department plans to make every change outlined in the scathing document. Ross replaced former secretary Mark Gottlieb last month. Following Tuesday’s hearing, state leaders indicated legislation would be introduced to make some of the audit’s recommendations law, and bills will receive additional hearings before the transit committee before heading to the full Senate or Assembly.

“We are making a real commitment to transportation,” Walker said.

For more information on the project, visit projects.511wi.gov/i-39-90.

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