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
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
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
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.