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The Interstate 39/90 Expansion Project

Forward Janesville led the formation of the Interstate 39/90 NOW Coalition, a group of lawmakers, community and business leaders, and concerned citizens who supported the expansion of Interstate 39/90 to six lanes from the Wisconsin state line to Madison. The Coalition's website went live on February 8, 2010:

Hundreds from across the Stateline joined the group, which helped advance this vital infrastructure project to the finish line. Here is a copy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from October 20, 2010, the day after the state Transportation Projects Commission enumerated the I-39/90 Expansion Project.

The I-39/90 Expansion Project was completed in 2023.  

Here is more information about the project and our efforts:

The End of the Road

In the wake of the 2008 GM Plant Closure, Forward Janesville created “the Roadmap to Rock County’s Future,” a set of legislative priorities that would help get Janesville and Rock County moving again.  Our top priority was the expansion of I-39/90 from the state line to Madison.

Interstate 39/90 has long been the backbone of southern Wisconsin’s economy.  I-39/90 is a critical link for Wisconsin’s tourism industry and for manufacturers and suppliers in our region.  The University of Wisconsin estimates that between $650 million and $800 million in economic activity flows along the I-39/90 corridor each and every day.  This commerce flows to all parts of Wisconsin and the Midwest.

Unfortunately, the shortcomings of this stretch of I-39/90 were becoming well known in 2008.  The pavement was substandard.  There were frequent, reliable, and frustrating traffic jams, and several high-profile public safety incidents.  Some of the interchanges were downright scary.  And the Interstate had accident rates that were significantly higher than the state and national average.  Frankly, these problems were transforming I-39/90 from asset into a liability, which was something that our area could not afford.

Forward Janesville’s involvement in this project ramped up in 2009, when we convened a group of community leaders and transportation industry stakeholders to develop a plan for getting this project underway.  The centerpiece of the plan was the creation of the I-39/90 NOW Coalition, a broad and diverse coalition of business, community and economic development leaders and concerned citizens from Beloit to the Wisconsin Dells.  The I-39/90 NOW Coalition went live in early 2010 with hundreds of members all along the corridor.

At that time, the I-39/90 expansion project was firmly on the state’s back burner.  The Wisconsin Transportation Projects Commission, the formal body responsible for greenlighting major highway projects for construction through a process called enumeration, hadn’t met since 2002.  

The I-39/90 NOW Coalition’s efforts generated a groundswell of support and momentum for the project, which culminated with an extraordinary meeting with Governor Jim Doyle in August 2010.  We brought a group of top community leaders from across Rock County to meet with the Governor to make our case.  A few minutes into the lobbying pitch, the Governor stopped us and let old the group that he was going to convene the Transportation Projects Commission and recommend the I-39/90 project for enumeration.

The Transportation Projects Commission met on October 19, 2010, and moved the project forward.  Construction began in 2012, and there have been many twists and turns along the way.  We advocated for every dollar of the $1.2 billion needed to complete the project, and helped secure a $40 million federal FASTLANE (Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Longterm Achievement of National Efficiencies) Grant to keep the project going.  

Forward Janesville stood watch over this project vigilantly for years, and we vowed to do so until the day the ribbon was cut: November 17, 2021.  Forward Janesville’s Dan Cunningham, the co-founder and spokesperson of the I-39/90 NOW Coalition, served as the master of ceremonies during the ribbon cutting celebration, which included Governor Tony Evers, WI Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson, and dozens who helped complete the project.  

This project has made Interstate 39/90 safer and more reliable for everyone.  It has also jump-started Rock County’s economy, and has led to the development along the corridor.  Great companies like Dollar General, SHINE Medical Technologies, and Amazon have chosen Rock County as their homes, and have brought millions in investment and hundreds of family-supporting jobs to our area.  And we believe the best is yet to come.  

The I 39/90 Expansion Project is an example of what we do best at Forward Janesville: we get the right people to the table, and we get things done.  It is impossible to accomplish a project of this magnitude alone, and Forward Janesville had dozens of partners in this project.  Some of these partners deserve special recognition:  

•    Former WI State Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, who shepherded this project through the Legislature and was a steadfast champion of the project.  

•    All of Rock County state legislators, who put political affiliations aside to stand behind the project.  

•    Municipal leaders from Janesville, Beloit, and nearly everywhere in-between.  This includes City Managers in Janesville (Steve Sheiffer, Eric Levitt and Mark Freitag) and Beloit (Larry Arft, Lori Curtis Luther) and dozens of municipal leaders in corridor communities, including city council members, town board members, and members of the Rock County Board of Supervisors.

•    The Federal Government, including WI’s federal legislative delegation led by House Speaker Paul Ryan.  We also had strong supporter from the US Department of Transportation, including US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who took a special interest in the project.  Secretary Foxx visited the I-39/90 Project Headquarters in Edgerton and met with the Forward Janesville delegation during Forward Janesville’s 2016 trip to Washington, DC.  The federal $40 million FASTLANE Grant prevented the project from an almost-certain construction delay.  

•    The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, including Transportation Secretaries Mark Gottlieb and Craig Thompson, and WisDOT Staff John Vesperman (Project lead) and Steve Theisen (Communications Manager).  WisDOT is a valued partner and great friend to the Janesville area.

•    Dozens of partners and colleagues in the state and area transportation industry, including the WI Transportation Builders Association, Putnam Roby Williamson (I-39/90 NOW Coalition PR support), RH Batterman, Rock Road Companies, LYCON, Inc., and Frank Silha and Sons Excavating.

•    The City of Janesville, who was Forward Janesville’s partner in advocacy for the project.  They were by our side for every meeting, every lobbying day, and helped us overcome every challenge.  They also helped transportation partners (WisDOT, Rock Road, Batterman) to stage this massive project in a way that minimally impacted businesses and the public.  

While the I-39/90 Expansion Project has reached ‘The End of the Road’, our prosperity in Rock County has only just begun.