The Real Roadblock to Highway 23
By Senator Devin LeMahieu
The expansion of Highway 23 is vital to the safety of our families and strength of our economy. This project will allow commuters and goods to be safely transported between Plymouth and Fond du Lac. It will also reduce the strain on nearby roads, which are currently being used to bypass Highway 23. Increased traffic counts on have been the impetus for this expansion since 1999. According to a Department of Transportation (DOT) study along HWY 23, vehicular traffic at a single point has already increased by 1200 cars a day within a two year period.
It was extremely disappointing to see a federal judge, at the behest of an environmental special interest group, deny the advancement of this necessary project just days prior to commencing. I, along with other legislators and business leaders, sent letters to Judge Adelman expressing my displeasure with the court ruling. Louie Gentine, CEO of Sargento, expressed concerns after the delay citing concerns for the safety of his employees who travel along highway 23.
According to DOT there is a crash every 8 days on Highway 23. Between Justice Adelman’s May 22nd decision and September 2nd, there were 5 serious crashes that occurred on Highway 23. Two people died, two more were seriously injured enough to require helicopter transport, and 13 other people were injured.
The court ruling effectively put a hold on the project by freezing the federal money. Unfortunately, funding the project with only state dollars is not a viable option. About 27% of the $145 million project is federally funded. Even if the state covered the federal portion of the costs (nearly $40 million), pursuing the project with state-only funding presents legal concerns, significant delays in securing necessary federal permits, and in the end would not put the project back on track.
Although a full four lane expansion is not available while the project is tied up in court, the state is committed to improving the safety and overall quality of the existing road.DOT has made several safety and maintenance improvements including 7 miles of pavement overlay, a new no passing zone, “re-spotting” the existing no passing zones, and adding centerline rumble strips. These are only temporary measures and not a permanent fix to the overall problem of safety.
When this project was first proposed in 1999, the total cost estimate for the entire project from Plymouth to Fond du Lac was approximately $42 million. Today, that estimate is $145 million—345 percent of the original total—this latest delay will only cause that number to increase further.
Since the ruling I have been in regular communication with the DOT officials to figure out ways to make this project a reality. While I am skeptical Judge Adelman will make a decision this year, I will continue to work with DOT and area stakeholders to ensure our friends and families can safely travel on highway 23.
Senator Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) serves the 9th Senate District, which includes portions of Calumet, Manitowoc, and Sheboygan Counties.