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Jonathan Gramling
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Vol. 9   No. 25
DECEMBER 11, 2014
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The Capital City Hues
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UNIQUE HITS
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                          Jobs on the Horizon
Madison Mayoral Aides Gloria Reyes and
Enis Ragland
A Seat at the Table
Last week, I took the time to attend a presentation by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT)
and Strand Associates on their preliminary findings in a study to make improvements to the Beltline
corridor. Anyone who drives the Beltline during the morning or afternoon rush hours knows that the stretch
from John Nolen Drive to Fish Hatchery Road is a bottleneck that causes traffic along the beltline to stop or
move like molasses in January.

WisDOT and Strand Associates have been looking at different ways to relieve the traffic congestion
including the building of a southern route from Verona Road over to I-39/I-90, the building of a northern route
north of Lake Mendota, improved bus transit along the corridor and improvements to pedestrian and bicycle
routes. While all of these may be desired for other reasons, this preliminary study suggests that none of
them will significantly decrease the Beltline congestion, especially with the projected growth in jobs in
areas adjacent to the Beltline or areas accessed by it.

So what does this mean? It means that significant highway construction/ reconstruction in the Madison
area could continue into the 2030s. Over the next 2-3 years, the Beltline-Verona Road interchange will be
rebuilt and a bridge over Verona Road at Hwy. PD will be built. Other possible bridges are being considered
on Verona Road between Verona and the Beltline. Also over the next few years, the reconstruction and
widening of I-39/I-90 will be occurring, beginning in the Janesville area and coming right up to Madison’s
southern border. And at some point, the I-39/I-90 interchange will be completely rebuilt.

Now any WisDOT work on the Beltline has to undergo several studies and decision-making points,
including an environmental impact study, before the first “Road Construction Ahead” signs are put in place.
The work that was done on the Beltline this past summer was just to keep it operational until the major
Beltline reconstruction occurs.

The environmental impact study will be a crucial step in the process. There are economically-challenged
neighborhoods along the Beltline, from the northern reaches of the Allied Drive area to South Madison to
Bridge-Lake Point. There is a lot of affordable housing along this corridor and so it will be important for
these areas to have their say and be involved during the environmental impact study to ensure that the
Beltline project will not adversely impact their residential and economic interests.

In the old days, Interstate highways were built right through the heart of African American communities i.e.
Milwaukee’s Bronzeville in the early 1960s and hastened their economic and social decline. Measures
have since been put in place like environmental impact studies to ensure this doesn’t happen again. But
people in the affected areas have to be involved to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Eventually, the final plan for the Beltline corridor will be announced, bids will be let, contracts awarded and
then the reconstruction will commence probably around 2025.

Now these kinds of projects are not cheap and create or retain family supporting jobs, whether they are as
laborers or in the skilled trades or as equipment operators. And by my calculation, these jobs are going to
be around well into the 2030s fueled just by the projects that have already been approved or are under
consideration. And who knows what other kinds of projects will be taken up after that. Americans’ love
affair with automobiles will not go away anytime soon and there will be even more cars on the road in the
years ahead.

Now is the time for people, especially people of color and women, to begin to prepare for these jobs. As the
Baby Boomers continue to retire, these jobs will become more and more available. And people need
advanced training before they can compete for these jobs. A job at McDonald’s? You can pretty much
decide tomorrow that you want to work there and you can get a job as a wait person. A job as a heavy-
equipment operator? That takes 4-6 years of education and training to qualify for. What is the reward for
taking those 4-6 years to prepare? The wages will be 2-3 times the amount you earn at McDonald’s and the
fringe benefits are pretty decent. That translates to $17,000 to $20,000 more in your pocket per year. That is
some serious cash and these jobs will be there.

So I urge young people especially to take note and prepare. I am all about people going to college. Burt for
those who aren’t going that route, these road construction jobs pay a whole lot better than slinging burgers
on a grill. Those who prepare for the future will benefit. The time to decide is now!