While much of the discussion about the poor condition of Wisconsin’s road network has centered around funding in recent years, the less covered story is the lack of planning. Although the idea of long-term planning can feel rather academic, the impacts of failing to do so in the Racine area are about to feel very real.
Headaches will intensify as the region prepares for the arrival of Foxconn. Make no mistake, the logistics of preparing for a company the size of Foxconn is daunting under the best of scenarios.
No community would be turn-key for such a huge endeavor. Invariably, infrastructure upgrades would be necessary.
What is exacerbating the situation, however, is those upgrades are now going to be made at the same time we are rushing to rebuild a stretch of Interstate that should have been completed years ago. As a result, we don’t have a logistical challenge, we have a logistical nightmare. Translation: plan a lot of extra time to get to where you are going.
I-94 North-South as it is known, was started in 2009 and was slated to be fully completed in 2016. Unfortunately, like so many other parts of our network, the project was kicked down the road again and again.
Local officials diligently fought against these delays over the years to no avail. Senator Wanggaard, for example, was very forceful calling out the lack of progress even with members of his own party. When this past state budget was once again introduced with no funding to complete I-94 North-South, Senator Wanggaard put out a strong press release which concluded with the following paragraph:
Wanggaard has said he will have a difficult time voting for a state budget that does not include funding and a timeline to complete the I-94 North-South corridor. Prior to prematurely stopping the work in Kenosha and Racine Counties, the freeway project was scheduled to be largely concluded in 2013. There is currently no scheduled date for completion of the almost 10-year project.
That was May 2017.
Several months later came the revelation that Foxconn was interested in locating in the Racine area. Intense negotiations successfully led to legislation that passed the legislature in August and was signed into law by Governor Walker. The package included many things – one of them being a stipulation to finally complete I-94 North-South.
One cannot imagine a greater impetus to get this project over the goal line than the prospect of landing a company the size of Foxconn. Even with that hammer hanging over the state’s head, scrambling to cobble together the funding has been messy. It appears that the state has finally met that challenge through borrowing, federal grants and moving money around. The project is now set to be completed in 2021.
The future for Racine is exciting. It is impossible to predict all the ancillary benefits of a company such as Foxconn coming to the region. Having a fully functional Interstate will also bring greater economic development.
So, the message to people in the Racine-Kenosha area is hang in there. The next year or two are going to try your patience in terms of getting around, but the payoff in the long-term will hopefully be well worth it.
The message to our elected officials at the state level is that failing to plan has real-world implications. We should never have been this far behind the eight ball on this project. If we had heeded Senator Wanggaard’s pleas to keep I-94 North-South on schedule in any of the last three budgets, the inconvenience to commuters would be far more manageable today.
Craig Thompson is executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin in Madison. He can be reached at 608-256-7044, www.tdawisconsin.org.