Transportation Projects Commission approves I-39/90/94 Wisconsin River bridges and US 51 construction

Votes to study I-39/90/94 corridor between Madison and Wisconsin Dells

​Release date: December 8, 2020​

On unanimous votes, the bipartisan Wisconsin’s Transportation Projects Commission today approved construction of the I-39/90/94 bridges over the Wisconsin River and an 18-mile section of US 51 in Dane County. The TPC also decided to study the I-39/90/94 corridor between Madison and Wisconsin Dells.

“The two construction projects approved by the TPC are good strategic investments that will reduce travel time, increase safety and serve people across Wisconsin,” said Governor Tony Evers, who chairs the commission. “The bridges where our three interstate highways come together serve freight traffic bound for destinations across the state, and US 51 will be critically needed to support a growing region and business community.”

The TPC, consisting of a bipartisan group of legislators and three citizen members, also approved removing two projects from study. They include a section of I-94 in St. Croix County and a section of US 12 in Walworth County. These corridors can be maintained successfully with State Highway Rehabilitation improvements.

“Last year, the TPC convened for the first time since 2014, and I am pleased that despite all the challenges 2020 brought, we could reconvene to look deliberately at transportation infrastructure,” Secretary-designee Craig Thompson said. “Today’s action prioritizes projects to achieve the greatest value of the public’s tax dollars.”

The projects that will advance include:

  • The I-39/90/94 crossing of the Wisconsin River in Columbia County with an estimated cost of $141 million 
  • An 18-mile section of US 51 in Dane County with an estimated cost of $174 million

The I-39/90/94 project from Madison to Wisconsin Dells in Columbia and Dane County is returning to study. Resuming the study will allow the department to evaluate this corridor and identify improvements to address growing traffic, particularly freight. It is the longest corridor in the country where three interstate highways run together and is responsible for carrying about 13,800 trucks per day and more than $116 billion (2017$) of freight annually, including:

  • 1.7 billion pounds of milk
  • $900 million worth of cheese
  • 3 million tons of grain

The route is also critical to the state’s $21.6 billion (2018$) tourism economy. It not only serves as a corridor for destinations throughout the state, it provides direct access to attractions such as the Wisconsin Dells, which alone was responsible for $1.6 billion in spending in 2019. The counties surrounding this segment, including Dane, Sauk and Columbia, represent 20 percent of the state’s overall tourist spending.

Major Highway Project candidates undergo an extensive, statutorily-set evaluation that considers a project’s potential to enhance economic development, relieve traffic congestion, improve safety and achieve community objectives while minimizing environmental impacts. To move forward, candidate projects must undergo an environmental review process. State law prohibits the TPC from recommending major highway projects unless funding is sufficient to begin construction within six years.

The TPC is a public/private commission that includes the Governor, five state senators, five assembly representatives and three citizen members who review, approve, and make recommendations regarding Major Highway Projects in Wisconsin.

The 2011–13 state budget revised the definition of a major highway project. A major project is now defined as having a total cost of more than $43.5 million and must involve at least one of the following:

  • Constructs a new highway route of 2.5 miles or more in length
  • Reconstructs or reconditions an existing highway of either relocating 2.5 miles or more of the existing highway or adding one or more lanes five miles or more in length to an existing highway
  • Improves to freeway standards 10 miles or more of an existing divided highway having two or more lanes in either direction.

In addition, the recently revised state law specifies that any project with a total cost of over $108.73 million that is not described above also qualifies as a major highway project (Statute 84.013(1)(a)2m).

More information about major highway projects in Wisconsin can be found on the WisDOT website.

For more information, contact:

WisDOT Office of Public Affairs
(608) 266-3581, opa.exec@dot.wi.gov