Judge’s State 23 ruling needs to be reversed

TO CALL IT A huge disappointment would be a huge understatement. Federal Judge Lynn Adelman’s lastminute ruling late last month halting the expansion of State 23 to four lanes from Plymouth to Fond du Lac just before the first phase of the work was set to begin was regrettable – but hopefully not permanent.

The ruling came in a suit filed by the environmental group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. That group claimed that the state Department of Transportation used faulty traffic data to justify the highway expansion. Adelman agreed and ordered the DOT to justify or adjust its data.

The 1000 Friends suit raised other issues with the DOT’s process and conclusions, and sought a permanent injunction to stop the four-lane project, but Adelman declined to issue a permanent injunction or uphold the group’s other objections.

Unfortunately, the ruling delays – and could potentially derail - a long-awaited project that’s been more than two decades in discussion and planning, and that’s a shame.

The two-lane stretch of State 23 between Fond du Lac and Plymouth is a true bottleneck in a transportation network that serves business, industry, tourism and residents in Sheboygan and Fond du Lac counties.

Anyone who drive the highway knows that, and knows the unsafe nature of the 19 miles of two-lane roadway.

1000 Friends of Wisconsin advocates increased funding for public transit as a priority over major highway project funding and that’s a laudable goal. Unfortunately, that is not an issue or an option for this particular project.

Sheboygan and Fond du Lac county industries send trucks full of their products to the rest of the state and the nation over that narrow, twisting stretch of two-lane highway.

Visitors to major events – like Road America and major golf tournaments – and tourist attractions in both counties have to reach their destination over that narrow, twisting stretch of two-lane highway.

The economic strength of both counties relies on the lifeline that is State 23 and the expansion to four lanes would only boost the vitality of all who depend on that lifeline.

Judge Adelman did not dispute or reject the environmental impacts of the State 23 project reported by the DOT and rightly so.

But the economic impact of the project is indisputable and should be a major consideration.

Since the expansion was fi rst proposed nearly a quarter of a century ago, it has earned the support of area legislators from both parties, local government offi cials and leaders of industry in both Fond du Lac and Sheboygan counties, and countless thousands who drive the highway – be it for work, play or any reason.

The estimated cost of the project has already risen from the original $42 million to well over $140 million. It’s a cost that’s only bound to increase with further delays, and the cost to local industry, business and residents who would benefit from a wider, safer State 23 will only increase as well.

It is in the greater interest of far more than 1,000 people that the State 23 four-lane project be allowed to proceed.

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