(Editor’s note: This guest column from Dane County Executive Joe Parisi is the latest in an occasional series of pieces from elected officials in Wisconsin who are interested in cycling.)
The arrival of fall means Badgers and Packers football, the days are shorter and generally cooler, and school kids get to remind their parents just how much middle school math has changed over the decades. For locally elected officials like me, it also means it’s budget season. Put more simply, it’s the one time each year county government gets to re-evaluate its priorities and determine what it wants to work on in the coming year.
Projects most important for the people I work for rise to the top of the “to-do” list. Given what I’ve heard in my time as County Executive, Dane County is due for a big year for biking in 2017.
Whether I’m on the east side of Madison or out in communities from Cross Plains to DeForest, the ability to get out and enjoy a bike ride is a shared value across our county. Some do it to get to work. Others simply to relax and get some time away. Some compete athletically. Others just want some recreation with their families. Regardless the reason, we want to make sure bicycling here is safe and fun and contributes to this continuing to be an incredibly livable community with a high quality of life.
That’s why my budget for next year kick-starts three trail projects, adds bike lanes to 25 miles of county highways, and hires a new full-time planner to help with all of the important design and planning work that goes into making new trails succeed.
At my direction, when Dane County Highway staff bring me road projects that need attention, they know to come in with a plan wherever possible to ensure the pavement is wide enough to include paved shoulders, marked for cycling. For example, when Highway Y out near Mazomanie is repaired next year, it will be widened to make room for bikes. The day is coming when those riders will be able to access both the Great Sauk Trail and Good Neighbor Trail projects that are each gaining new momentum in western Dane County.
The Good Neighbor Trail has been talked about conceptually for years. This summer’s tragic crash involving a cyclist from Madison who commuted to work in Cross Plains on Highway 14 brought renewed local attention to the need for a safe off-road trail. There’s a mix of publicly owned county and state lands available for corridor but more properties need to be acquired for this trail to connect Middleton to Black Earth. I put $1-million in this budget to help local governments buy the land and secure the easements needed to get this project going.
A few years ago, Congresswoman turned Senator Tammy Baldwin secured federal funds to help Dane County and the State of Wisconsin finish off a link of the Glacial Drumlin Trail on the east side of Madison heading into Cottage Grove. Right now, only six miles between the Interstate and Highway N in Cottage Grove separates Glacial Drumlin from running seamlessly from Dodgeville to Milwaukee. I’m putting county planning money into this project next year and hiring a new full-time parks planner to take on the important task of managing the design work.
Work is progressing on schedule and on budget for the much-anticipated first phase of the Lower Yahara River Trail spanning the Yahara River, linking Lake Farm County Park with McDaniel Park in McFarland. With over a mile of boardwalk along the water, this trail will no doubt quickly become one of our most picturesque rides in the county in the coming year. I’m going to keep the momentum going and get to work on the equally beautiful second phase of this project, more than a mile section between Lake Farm County Park and Lake Kegonsa State Park in the Stoughton area.
Not only do I want to build more trails, I want to be sure we take care of the ones we have. That’s why I’m starting a three-year repair project on the Capital City Trail which sees 125,000 riders each year. The first refurbishing will cost about $420,000 next year.
I also want to recognize the partnership between Dane County, the Bike Federation and the Healthy Kids Collaborative at American Family Children’s Hospital which recently secured a Safe Rides Grant to help more young people and their families get to school safely. We’re getting great things done together! And investing in what the residents of our county care about – safe enjoyable fun for families, and a high quality of life.