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by Justin Engebregtsen

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Trail Enhancement Project

Bikes over the Interstate

Trail Enhancement Project

OZAUKEE PRESS

OPINION

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Bikes over the interstate

OUR VIEW If the state does its part for needed Ozaukee bike bridges, it will be a mandate for local funding sources to step up

Complaints about unfunded state mandates are a familiar refrain in the chambers of the Ozaukee County Board. Having to spend county property tax revenue to support programs required but not completely funded by the state is a long-standing irritant, and we don't blame County Board members for venting their frustration from time to time. There is a flip side to this, however, that ought to temper the grumbling: The State of Wisconsin gives a substantial amount of money to the county in the form of grants that provide valuable benefits to Ozaukee residents. The Ozaukee County Interurban Bike Trail is wonderful example.

The 29-mile trail, a recreational resource that not only contributes to the good life here but enhances opportunities for tourism and economic development for the communities along its route, was built largely with state funds. Now there is a good chance the state will pay 80% of the $2 million cost of building a pair of bridges to take trail users safely across I-43.

The bridges are needed in the Town of Grafton near Ulao Parkway and at the north edge of Port Washington. In both places, bikers have to leave the secure confines of the trail and deal with fast traffic on heavily traveled highways with scant provision for the safety of people on bicycles. In both places, the remedy is a bridge across I-43 exclusively for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Port Washington bridge, beyond the safety aspect, would in effect open a beautiful part of the trail--the stretch through the sparsely populated countryside from Highway LL to the Sheboygan County line-- to bikers and hikers who have shied away from it because of the difficulty of negotiating the connection on the northern outskirts of the city.

The need for these trail improvements has been obvious for some time, but the idea of building bike bridges across the interstate seemed pretty much a fantasy, given the squeeze on government spending in the state. But now, thanks to the potential for grant money and a good decision made by the County Board last week, the bridges have moved into the realm of possibility.

The board's good decision was giving the Park Commission permission to apply for $1.6 million for the bridges from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funds controlled by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Granted, this was done with some reluctance. In fact, several board members insisted that if the grants were approved, the $400,000 portion of the project not covered by the grants should not be paid by the county.

Fair enough. This is not a good time for elected officials to commit public funds to something that is more an amenity than a necessity. But it's the perfect time for others to demonstrate that pressure on public spending need not mean that the public has to be denied an improvement like the bike bridges.

Money raised by businesses, service organizations, individuals, even communities that benefit from the trail, perhaps augmented by other grants, can make this leap over I-43 happen.

If the state approves the grant applications, it should be taken as a mandate to activists for progress in Ozaukee County to raise the 20% local share of the money needed to build the bridges. In this case, you could call it a funded state mandate.