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Interstate project support needs direction

By Paul Snyder

I drive Interstate 39/90 from Madison into Illinois every time I go to see my family in the Chicago area.

In five years of taking it both out of and into Wisconsin, I’ve never once thought, “This road could stand another lane in each direction.”

Almost every time I’ve used it, barring those fantastically helpful Wisconsin snowstorms, traffic has been moderate at worst.  Of course, I might be singing a different tune had I been stranded on the road like others in a roughly 20-mile traffic jam on the interstate during a February 2008 snowstorm, but even then, that was more a problem of driving in terrible weather than on an overstressed highway.

Still, it’s hard to fault the I-39/90 Coalition for pressing the state to advance the expansion work. Not only could it bring construction jobs, but it also could facilitate more economic growth in an area hurting for it.

The question I have is about the coalition’s plan of attack. Drumming up support in the Legislature can’t hurt the project’s potential, but crossing your fingers that Gov. Jim Doyle will convene the Transportation Projects Commission just once before he leaves office might be wishing on a long shot.

The possible alternatives to the TPC not meeting are putting the project in a future state budget or maybe another bill, but those ideas run the risk of polarizing support for the project based on certain lawmakers prioritizing their districts over others.

The roughly 45 miles of I-39/90 between Madison and the Illinois border do not constitute the only stretch of road in Wisconsin in need of improvement, and with the state’s transportation budget still in deficit, the costs associated with any projects (or, gasp, earmarks) are bound for some heavy critique throughout the state.

So issuing general press releases about the job opportunities the project could bring and hoping the TPC might meet to consider the upgrade probably will not be enough. If the state is in a financial hole, the project’s going to be a tough sell. The numbers are important, and they need to be used.

In the meantime, I’m still making fine time to the Chicago area, and even if I blame a half-hour delay on traffic, I’m talking to a bunch of people with a first retort of, “Traffic? Oh, you want to talk about traffic?”

Paul Snyder is a staff reporter with The Daily Reporter.

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