When the Marquette was completed in 2008, it was by far the largest and most complex road project in Wisconsin’s history. Its plan was 4,400 pages long. The work required 46 construction cranes. A manager quipped in a PowerPoint presentation that the project would “create its own weather.”
Seven years later, though, the Marquette is no longer an outlier. The state is already building or planning three larger freeway projects in the Milwaukee area alone; the expansion and reconstruction of the nearby Zoo Interchange will cost more than twice as much as the Marquette. It’s all part of a $7 billion effort to widen and modernize the interstates around the city, an effort so massive it has its own line item in the state budget, “Southeast Wisconsin Freeway Megaprojects.”
“There’s a lot of work to do,” says Patrick Goss, director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, the most powerful lobby for the state’s highway-industrial complex. “We just have to figure out how to pay for it all.”
That is the big dilemma right now in Washington, where the legislation that sluices more than $50 billion a year in federal funds to state transportation departments is about to expire. Congressional leaders want to extend it, perhaps for as long as six years, but with gas-tax revenues drooping, they’re struggling to find a way to finance it.