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WisBusiness: DOT's 20-year plan includes a closer look at freight movement
10/6/2009

By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com

As the state Department of Transportation plans for its next two decades of projects, a key facet of the process will be taking a close look at the way freight moves around Wisconsin.

That’s one of the highlights of Connections 2030, the state’s long-range, multi-modal plan that officials say defines the Department of Transportation’s vision for the next twenty years.

Sandy Beaupre, WisDOT’s director of Planning and Economic Development, says her department will study how goods are moved into, around and out of the Badger State on all modes of transportation.

“Our emphasis will be on developing a freight focus,” she says. “We realized we don’t have a lot of good data about how freight moves in the state.

“Nor do we understand what the impact is of rising number of trucks on the state highway system, the use of our ports for big freight items. We need to have good data that will help decision-makers identify where our bottlenecks are for freight movement, but then also to plan out how we are going to address some of these bottlenecks.”

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She says her department will work with universities and other states in the region to develop reliable information from which projects can be proposed.

Beaupre says the plan also identifies what airports have runways that can be upgraded to 5,000-foot lengths, which business leaders say are necessary to attract factories and corporate headquarters to the state.

Currently, the Milwaukee, Madison and Janesville airports have runways that are at least 5,000 feet long.

Another key part of the plan is high-speed rail. By the year 2030, and perhaps well before that, Wisconsin will likely have high-speed trains zipping through it from Chicago via Milwaukee to Madison and then on to the Twin Cities. And, if there is enough federal funding and local support, trains running nearly 200 miles per hour may also go from Milwaukee to Green Bay.

“The governor and the transportation secretary are both big supporters of high-speed rail in Wisconsin,” Beaupre says.

“We’ve incorporated three phases (into Connections 2030). One is to get high-speed trains from Chicago to Madison through Milwaukee. Then from Madison on to the Twin Cities. There is also a third phase that talks about possible service to Green Bay via Milwaukee.”

“All the plan is saying that this is what we’d like to see. A lot of planning work remains to be done to get high-speed rail in Wisconsin. The timing will depend on federal dollars and then completion of alternatives analysis, environmental work and the public outreach that has to occur.”

She said the plan also supports development of Regional Transit Authorities to push for development of commuter systems in southeast Wisconsin, the Madison region and perhaps other metropolitan areas of the state.

In addition, it includes proposals for new bridges around the state to replace existing structures and will affect both rural and urban Wisconsin, she said.

Beaupre emphasized that the state’s economy is dependent on a robust transportation system that includes modern highways, ports, transit systems, rail lines and airports.

“Transportation and economic growth are really connected in Wisconsin,” she said. “The viability of our economy is dependent on a good transportation system.”

Beaupre said the plan includes hundreds of miles of improvements to existing freeways and highways. She said it has 26 miles of new “backbone” routes and 253 miles of new connector routes.

A backbone route, she said, are highest-value, multi-lane routes and divided highways that connect all the regions and major economic sectors of the state. Connector routes are high-quality two- or four-lane highways that also link significant economic and tourist areas around the state.

One thing the Connections 2030 plan does not foresee, she said, is tollways for Wisconsin.

“The secretary feels there are other options for financing besides tolls,” she said. “Tolls may be in future discussions, but they are not part of recommendations of the 2030 plan.”
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