Interstate Takes a Pounding


We can thank a former president and military general, Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, for the U.S. interstate highway system. President Eisenhower was inspired by Germany’s efficient highway system he witnessed as a general during World War II. His support led to the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which secured funding for America’s first 41,000 miles of the interstate system.

The interstate is also called the Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Wait. Defense Highways? Yep. Eisenhower was concerned about the ability to evacuate major cities in the event of war, including a nuclear attack. Of course Uncle Sam needs to move its equipment at a time of crisis, too. It seems mile markers and numbered exits serve more than a basic purpose of assisting travelers.

The interstate has made a big impact on St. Croix County communities going back several decades. In late October 1959, a 41-mile segment of I-94 opened from Hudson to Menomonie. Another stretch, Menomonie to Eau Claire, opened soon thereafter. The celebrated opening produced fanfare. Attending dignitaries included governors from Wisconsin and Minnesota, U.S. Senators and Representatives, county board members, and local officials from communities dotting the interstate.

At nearly 60-years old, the interstate has every reason to be worn and tired. Standing outside a convenience store along the north or south frontage roads in Hudson confirms the intensity of east- and west-bound traffic. Cars, SUVs, and semis combine for a steady Zoom! Daily traffic counts are estimated at 90,000+ vehicles at the St. Croix River, maybe higher. It’s no wonder there are 11-inches of concrete atop a 20-plus inch base of aggregate material. The original concrete may have several layers of blacktop, as old applications are milled off to make room for new ones.

Construction cones and barricades are constant reminders of upgrades to I-94. A resurfacing project from Exit 4 to Roberts was recently completed. A more intensive project, from the Wisconsin-Minnesota border to Exit 4, will take a little longer. It includes upgrading and replacing deteriorating sections of roadway and shoulders, bridge decks over Front Street, concrete barrier walls, widening the bridge deck over State Highway 35 (River Falls exit), and adding some noise barriers. Hang in there motorists, commuters, and residents.

Traffic counts at key intersections along I-94 in St. Croix are very comparable to traffic numbers between Madison and Milwaukee. As the St. Croix Valley continues to grow, civic leaders need to intensify their drum beats in Madison to secure additional fix-it funding or accelerate projects on a mythical Wish List. The Madison region gets its fair share. So does Milwaukee. Don’t overlook St. Croix’s needs. Help beat the drum.