Campaign to widen I-39/90 kicks off in Janesville - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Campaign to widen I-39/90 kicks off in Janesville

By Jeff Angileri - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- Southern Wisconsin's concrete artery could eventually get a major makeover.

Lawmakers, business leaders, and workers rallied Monday in support to rebuild Interstate 39/90, from the state line to Madison.

It could cost up to $1 billion, in federal and state funds, according to the project's leaders.

"I believe we can make the I-39/90 expansion a reality, creating new, family-supporting jobs, and opportunities for business success," said Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, a Janesville democrat.

The project would reconstruct the stretch of interstate, from the Illinois-Wisconsin state line, to U.S. Highway 12 in Madison, adding one lane in each direction.

More than 58,000 vehicles drive the road everyday, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

By 2030, the predicted daily traffic count could surpass 87,000.

Business leaders call that stretch of interstate the "economic and recreational gateway of Wisconsin." When the roadway goes from six lanes in Illinois to four lanes in Wisconsin, they say it creates a traffic bottleneck.

"For vacationers, the ride turns into a white knuckle experience," said Stan Jones, owner of the Holiday Inn Express in Janesville. "You wouldn't believe how often we look out the window and see traffic at a dead stop."

Business leaders say a stalled transportation system means a stalled economy.

"That means when trucks are stuck in traffic, their raw materials and finished products aren't contributing to the economy," said Dan Cunningham, vice president of government relations for Forward Janesville. "This could lead to businesses taking Rock County and south central Wisconsin off their lists as potential sites for job creation."

Besides congestion, coalition members say safety is an issue. More than 600 accidents occur on this stretch every year.

Plus, they say, the road is deteriorating. The concrete is 27 years old, seven years past its life expectancy. And many of the 90 bridges on the stretch of road don't meet modern standards, leaving plenty of work for a struggling construction industry.

"Our guys are in desperate need of work right now," said Ryan Oehloff, Local 139. "We're seeing double-digit unemployment. Workers are making choices between mortgage payments and buying prescription drugs to stay healthy."

"I worked 232 hours last year. The year before, I worked 2,700 hours." said Mark Brummond, Local 139. "I lost my house, my car, my motorcycle."

Some say the prospect of a 5-year road project will pay major dividends.

"It's good money, and we'll be putting a lot of that money back into the community," Brummond said.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is preparing an environmental impact statement right now.

The plan will then be forwarded to federal officials for approval, followed by state approval.

The federal government would pay 80 percent of the project costs, and the state would pay the remaining 20 percent, according to Kevin Traas, with the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association.

Under the proposal, the state would have to purchase 135 acres of land between Beloit and Madison -- 111 acres of crops, 4 acres of forest, and 20 other acres.

Construction likely wouldn't start until 2015 or 2016.

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