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Economic development - Economic Evaluation of Highway Major Investment Program

The largest, most expensive highway development projects in Wisconsin are called Major Projects. These projects represent long-term solutions to the most serious deficiencies on highly traveled segments of the highway system. Due to their size and cost, each of the Majors must go through a lengthy review process before they are approved and funded.

The majority of the Major Projects are funded from the state’s transportation bonding program and are evaluated by the Legislature's Transportation Projects Commission (TPC). The evaluation process involves a ranking process comparing design and construction alternatives. Rankings are based on a benefit/cost calculation, taking in factors such as safety and congestion improvements, economic benefits, access management, community development and environmental impacts. 

The potential economic development benefits are one of the largest factors used to determine the viability of a given Major Project. Once evaluations have been made and preferred alternative is identified, the Governor and Legislature must authorize the construction of the recommended project through a statutory approval process called enumeration.

The evaluation of major projects and economic development 

The selection of major highway investment projects in Wisconsin is explicitly based upon the potential each project has to contribute to economic development, both regionally and statewide. Highway infrastructure investments most strongly support economic growth through their impact on industrial productivity; good investments make regional industries more efficient by lowering their overall transportation costs. 

Projects are prioritized by their potential to increase the productivity of the specific industries along the corridors served by the projects. A highway project with great potential for contributing to the productivity of the industries along the corridor will score higher than a project with less potential to boost the productivity of industries along its route. Through this type of analysis, the highway network in Wisconsin is designed to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of businesses in the state, allowing firms to increase output and hire new workers.

One example of a completed major highway project is the approximately eight-mile section of US Highway 45 between US Highway 41 near Oshkosh and County G in Winnebago County. This was a $38.4 million capacity expansion project designed to eliminate traffic congestion both now and in the future on this heavily-traveled route, and to improve safety and operational efficiency by controlling the access from driveways and side roads. This type of improvement reduces truck travel costs for all businesses using the road.

The Oconomowoc Bypass (WIS 16/WIS 67) exemplifies a Major Project currently underway. This project constructs a 4-lane divided expressway around the city, in Waukesha and Jefferson Counties. Its purpose is to create a safer, more reliable alternative route for the truck traffic that previously traveled through downtown Oconomowoc. Additional work has been scheduled on the Bypass to address safety concerns that emerged after the previous round of construction was finished.

A project currently being reviewed for enumeration is US 10/WIS 441. Although the proposed project extends only 5 miles, this highway is a vital regional transportation link serving the Fox Cities Urban Area, including the Neenah, Menasha and Appleton Metropolitan Areas in Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago Counties. Between 49,000 and 60,000 vehicles use the route daily. The highway’s interchanges and its crossing of Little Lake Butte Des Morts have operational deficiencies. Further, the entire study area along US 10/WIS 441 requires capacity expansion to enhance operational efficiency, safety, and regional economic development.

The recommended project would expand US 10/WIS 441 from four to six lanes, including the construction of an additional bridge over Little Lake Butte des Morts on the south side of the existing bridge. The project will also upgrade US 10/WIS 441 interchanges. The economic evaluation of the project documented the Fox Valley’s increasing urbanization through increases in population and business development. Economic development organizations are especially strong in the region, resulting in active promotion of economic development projects. This project will also complement additional Major Highway Projects underway or completed in the region. 

For additional information regarding the economic evaluation process for major projects, contact Robert Russell, Bureau of Planning, (608) 266-2961. 


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