How long must we wait for four-lane State 23?

RESIDENTS OF SHEBOYGAN AND Fond du Lac counties are beginning to understand how residents of northern Ozaukee and southern Sheboygan counties felt for many decades before State 57 was finally expanded to four lanes between Saukville and Random Lake.

The long wait for the completion of four lanes on State 23 between Plymouth and Fond du Lac has been subject to numerous delays since it was first enumerated as a priority project in 1999.

The delays have been budgetary and, earlier this year, by an injunction from U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Lynn Adelman in response to a suit by the environmental group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

While that ruling – which tabled construction that was finally scheduled to begin this year – is being contested and appealed, the project is again facing a budget challenge that could put it back on hold even if Adelman’s ruling is reversed.

The state Department of Transportation has announced that it will have to delay five major road construction projects – including the State 23 project – because of a funding shortfall in the current biennial state budget.

Gov. Scott Walker had sought $1.3 billion in borrowing to finance road projects in the budget, but Republicans in the state Legislature cut that to $500 million. Walker is now asking the Legislature to approve an additional $350 million to cover part of that gap, but his proposal has met resistance so far from Republicans.

The legislators are rightly concerned about Walker’s plan to repay the borrowing out of the state’s general fund tax revenues. They are worried about the impact that would have on already stressed school and state service budgets funded out of general fund taxes.

But there are other ways to generate the funds needed to keep road projects necessary for continued economic growth moving forward.

A bipartisan study committee recommended a series of gas tax and vehicle fee increases three years ago to meet the state’s road project funding gap, but the Republican-controlled Legislature has ignored the bipartisan plan in two consecutive budget cycles.

One recommendation was to increase the gas tax by five cents a gallon. The state gas tax had been indexed to inflation until 2006. Had that practice been kept in place, the state gas tax would have risen just six cents a gallon since then – right in line with the study committee recommendation.

Inflexible and unbending opposition to any and all tax increases – justifiable or not, modest or not, for a good cause or not – has placed needed road projects in jeopardy.

Good roads are the backbone of local economies. Postponing needed work because of a lack of courage to take the steps to properly fund them that work is irresponsible and inexcusable.

Finishing the four-lane State 23 west to Fond du Lac would be the final piece of a four-lane network stretching from Milwaukee to Green Bay to Madison and back, serving cities and communities small and large within that area – including, of course, Plymouth and Sheboygan County.

It can only be hoped that the delaying tactics of the 1000 Friends group will eventually be put aside and that elected officials in Madison can see the need to properly fund needed road projects.

The alternative is a continued long, frustrating wait. Ask anyone in Random Lake, Fredonia, Saukville and other points along State 57 just how counter-productive that is.

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