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Rubin Column: Ribbon of highway

Bill Rubin

Bill Rubin is the St. Croix Economic Development Corporation executive director

Woodrow Wilson (Woody) Guthrie, the folk singer who found inspiration from the Dust Bowl era, may be best remembered for writing "This Land is Your Land." A key line in the ballad is, "As I was walking that ribbon of highway, I saw above me that endless skyway." The term, "ribbon of highway" creates a dark image of desperate Okies from Oklahoma migrating to California on bad two-lane roads during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

St. Croix County's ribbon of highway is Interstate 94. It's a show piece and workhorse, carrying as many as 85,000 vehicles a day at the border with Minnesota. Back in October 1959, a 59-mile segment of I-94 opened from Hudson to Menomonie, and later to Eau Claire, impacting this region's destiny forever. America successfully transitioned from two-lane highways to four-lane super highways as more and more segments of the interstate system opened.

Business, industry, agriculture, tourism, and commuters all rely on I-94's connections. But at nearly 60 years old, I-94 is tired and worn. Orange construction barrels now dominate the landscape, usually in three- to five-mile increments. Reinvestment in the interstate system here has been steady. Numerous overpasses and interchanges throughout St. Croix have been reconstructed, complete with round-about intersections at the top of each ramp. Road construction work in the Hudson area recently started, which will result in the addition of a third travel lane in both directions from the St. Croix River at Exit 1 to just past Exit 4. A new allocation totaling $144+ million was a late addition to the state's biennial budget. I-94's driving lanes will be further expanded between Exit 4 and State Highway 65 in Roberts as part of this new, seven-mile project.

St. Croix County's residents could be nicknamed Road Warriors, travelling short and long distances for work, shopping, and entertainment. County residents commute in all four directions for employment, but the most popular destination is west into the Twin Cities. At dawn, I-94's westbound lanes are busy, followed by heavy eastbound traffic in the afternoon. Semis, carrying raw materials and finished products, are important to commerce but their loads take a toll on the roads. Summer's heat, winter plowing, followed by spring's thaw and freeze, can be knock-out punches.

Reinvestment in I-94 is vital, whether it's a three- or seven-mile stretch. The interstate is a lifeline. Traffic hums along at all hours. It's an important component to economic development.

Mr. Guthrie, jump in for a ride. From California to the New York Island, that ribbon of highway is a little longer and faster than you may remember.

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