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Long delayed road project moves forward
In Richland County
Marklein - Highway OO project
Pictured left to right are Richland County Highway Commissioner Joshua Elder; Sen. Howard Marklein; Candace Desch, the county’s new administrator, and Jon Hochkammer, who served as interim administrator. They’re standing on County Road O, which received funding in this year’s budget.

RICHLAND COUNTY - Riddle me this: What takes 20 years to go three miles?

Answer: The State of Wisconsin—when it comes to paving the final section of Richland County Road O, from Walmart on Highway 14 to its intersection with County Road OO.

The project got a green light and went under contract in 2003. And then it sputtered and stalled until the current budget cycle.

Twenty years is a long time for a heavily traveled two-lane stretch (technically only 2.9 miles long) that must bear up under a lot of agricultural semi traffic. 

The issue was funding, according to Joshua Elder, the fifth and final Richland County Highway Commissioner to preside over the project.

“Typically, these projects are done in a couple of years,” he said. “But back in 2003, this project was done under federal standards.” That meant construction would require an archaeological dig to sniff out any culturally sensitive artifacts under the asphalt.

At that point, according to Elder, “The federal dollars came into effect, but the state wouldn’t grant the funding because of the overall price tag.”

Bipartisan push

Elder credits Senator Howard Marklein, who represents District 17, which includes Richland County, with pushing the funding through the budget process.

Marklein said that, at Elder’s urging, he reached out to Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Craig Thompson, who was appointed by the Democratic Governor Tony Evers.

“I talked about the problem, how long this has been languishing,” Marklein told the Dial. “It’s not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s been multiple administrations and multiple DOT secretaries. To his credit, he took my call and listened, but he didn’t really see too much of a pathway to getting this thing funded short of an earmark in the budget itself.”

Earmarks are tricky, as they are standalone items in the budget, and as such can be struck down one by one at the governor’s discretion through the line item veto.