Gov. Scott Walker’s administration says work will be done a year ahead of schedule, by 2020, on a project to expand and rebuild U.S. Interstate 39-90 from the Madison area to the Illinois state line.
The project previously was set to be done by 2021.
Walker’s administration said the state Department of Transportation is using cost savings, including from lower fuel prices and more competitive bids on projects, to expedite work on the I-39-90 project. The $1.2 billion project, seen as vital to accommodate tourism traffic on the main link from Illinois to Wisconsin Dells, is rebuilding and adding a lane each way to the Interstate for a 45-mile stretch from Illinois to a point south of its interchange with the Madison Beltline.
“Opening I-39-90 early ensures that the citizens of Wisconsin will have the infrastructure needed to accommodate job growth and tourism throughout the state,” Walker said.
Somewhat less clear are the department’s plans to rebuild the Interstate’s interchange with the Madison Beltline.
A biannual report issued by the DOT on Thursday, which tracks progress on highway projects, said the department is conducting a “re-scoping and environmental analysis” of the interchange portion of the project, with the objective of getting it done by 2021.
DOT officials did not provide information Thursday on how much the interchange would cost. The report said costs would depend on the outcome of the environmental analysis.
Craig Thompson, a spokesman for the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, said he’s eager to see what the department decides to do with the interchange. Whatever work is planned for the interchange must account for safety needs and projected increases in traffic congestion in future years, he said.
“I’d hate to see us invest that kind of money on the (other portion of the project) and then do the interchange on the cheap — to the detriment of the traveling public,” Thompson said.
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Last year, a ballooning cost estimate for the Beltline interchange, up to $550 million, caused DOT Secretary Dave Ross to vow to pare back that figure.
The soaring pricetag of the I-39-90 project has been a flash point at the Capitol.
A 2011 cost estimate for the project, including the interchange, was $715 million.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers are proposing a way to pay for rebuilding Interstate 94 around Milwaukee after Walker and the Legislature scrapped the project.
Three lawmakers Thursday unveiled a bill that would put $25 million toward reviving the I-94 project between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges just to the west of Milwaukee.
Walker abandoned the project expected to cost about $1 billion after the Legislature didn’t put any funding toward it.
Walker said Thursday he had not seen the bill and that drivers in the Milwaukee area needed a break from road construction on the highly traveled Interstate.
Walker’s administration asked the Federal Highway Administration to pull approval for the project after it was not funded in the state budget.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.