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WisDOT, citing statute, says it can't reimburse city for La Crosse Street repairs

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says state law wouldn’t allow it to pay a bill for La Crosse Street repairs if sent one under Mayor Tim Kabat’s proposal to fix the portion of Hwy. 16.


Under state law, the portion of the road is considered a “connecting highway,” which means it’s a local road that carries state highway traffic through the city. The state transportation department provides aid to La Crosse to maintain the road; however, it is responsible for replacing the road when it reaches the end of its useful life.

“Municipalities have the authority to perform improvement work on connecting highways without WisDOT approval,” WisDOT communications manager Michael Bie wrote in an email. “There is no statutory authority to bill the state for work on a connecting highway, or for the state to reimburse a municipality for improvements authorized by the municipality.”

WisDOT has plans to repair the road, which runs down the center of La Crosse, past Myrick Park, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus and Western Technical College, in 2025.

Kabat said earlier this week that the city can’t wait for the state to fix the road, saying the road won’t last another seven years. He’s proposed including a repaving or replacement project in the 2019 capital improvement budget, which goes before the city’s Plan Commission starting this summer.

Under his proposal, the city would pay for the extensive repairs needed and ask for reimbursement from the state.

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, who represents the La Crosse area, tied the street’s disrepair with infrastructure struggles throughout the state.

“I understand Mayor Kabat’s frustration with Gov. Walker’s inability to lead on transportation funding. Wisconsin families and communities want a responsible, long-term transportation funding solution to repair our crumbling infrastructure and improve road safety,” she said.

The Democratic Senate leader criticized Walker’s state budget, which initially provided a slight increase for local road aids before the increase was removed in the final version.

State Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, plans to meet with WisDOT Secretary Dave Ross in the coming weeks to talk about options for the project.

10 most crash-prone state highway intersections in La Crosse County

10 most crash-prone state highway intersections in La Crosse County

Wisconsin Supreme Court election
Supreme Court primary will narrow field to two

MADISON — The latest battle over the ideological balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court plays out in the Feb. 20 primary, where one of three candidates will be eliminated ahead of a spring election.

Partisan politics have weighed heavy over weeks of campaigning. Madison attorney Tim Burns has most embraced his liberal beliefs, while Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet sought to appear as a moderate. Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock, an appointee of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has the backing of conservatives.

The primary is the first statewide race this year, and while officially nonpartisan, it could be a bellwether for how Republicans and Democrats stand heading into the fall. Turnout is expected to be low, likely less than 10 percent.

The top two vote-getters advance to the April 3 general election, with the winner replacing outgoing conservative Justice Michael Gableman. He decided against seeking another 10-year term.

The court is currently controlled 5-2 by conservatives, so no matter who wins the ideological control will not change.

Burns is the most vocal about his Democratic beliefs and political leanings, saying that the nonpartisan race is a charade and candidates should be honest about who they are. He introduces himself as an “unshakable champion for progressive values” and has called President Donald Trump an “unhinged billionaire.”

Burns, who represents clients nationwide in lawsuits against insurance companies, is the only non-judge in the race. He also has little experience litigating in Wisconsin courtrooms, having argued only one case in state court and six in federal court in Wisconsin.

Burns argues his experience outside of Wisconsin is a strength that will help him fix what he views as a broken system. And, he argues a victory for him will energize liberals across the state headed into the fall.

Dallet argues that Burns has gotten too political. But she’s walking a fine line trying to win over many of the same liberal voters Burns is appealing to. She ran a commercial attacking Trump and has criticized the current Supreme Court for voting in 2015 to end an investigation into Walker and conservatives.

“We have a Supreme Court that has lost the confidence our state needs, our public needs, in its ability to do justice for all of us,” she said at a forum earlier this month.

Although not as strident as Burns, she advocates for clean air and water, empowering women, and fighting opioid abuse. She describes the current Supreme Court as “broken.”

Dallet spent 11 years as an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County before being elected a judge in 2008.

Screnock, who was appointed as a judge by Walker in 2015, is the choice of conservatives. He argues that all he cares about is the rule of law, but he’s also embraced his past, saying it was a “privilege” as an attorney to defend Walker’s Act 10 law taking away collective bargaining rights from public unions. Screnock has also said he has no regrets about being twice arrested as a college student in 1989 for taking part in anti-abortion protests.

“Both of my opponents are actively campaigning on the political issues they hold dear,” Screnock told the Wisconsin Counties Association earlier this month. He called that “deeply troubling” and said he won’t let his personal beliefs affect his rulings.

Burns’ unusual approach has won him the endorsement of Our Revolution, the political arm of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Burns is also endorsed by liberal U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, who represents the Madison area in Congress, as well as former U.S. Reps. David Obey and Steve Kagen.

Dallet has endorsements from more than 200 judges and 150 other elected officials from across the state.

Screnock has been endorsed by anti-abortion groups Wisconsin Family Action and Wisconsin Right to Life and uses the hashtag #wiright on his Twitter posts. The state chamber of commerce, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, has run nearly half a million dollars in ads supporting Screnock.

 Marc Wehrs

Three million safe miles

Sam Maier attributes 3 million accident-free miles to “a whole lot of luck.”

His supervisor disagrees.

“It’s attention to detail and having a heightened sense of awareness,” said Pat McDonald, manager of the Holland Freight terminal in Tomah. “He keeps the public safe by leading by example.”

Maier was recognized for 27 years of accident-free driving with Holland during a ceremony last week at Holland’s Tomah terminal. He was presented with a plaque and a ring, had a cake baked in his honor and was given a Tomah Police Department escort out of town en route to Minneapolis.

In addition to luck, Maier attributes safety advances in vehicle and highway design and his own commitment to paying attention to the road.

“It’s just like anything else — know what’s going on around you,” he said.

Maier, who lives in La Crosse with his wife, Kendra, began his trucking career in 1976 driving for Erickson Bakery in La Crosse. He then hauled products for La Crosse’s G. Heileman Brewery Co. to its Chicago warehouse before being hired by Holland in 1990. His linehaul route (terminal to terminal rather than directly to customers) for Holland takes him from Tomah to Minneapolis and Rockford, Ill.

Maier is one of just 28 Holland drivers nationwide to hit the 3 million mark.

“He’s in elite company with that many years and that many miles,” McDonald said.

According to a Holland press release, it would take an average American driver 220 years to log 3 million miles, during which time the driver would be involved in 13 accidents.

“Professionals like (Maier) not only help to make Holland great, they also help make our highways safer for everyone,” said Holland president Scott Ware. “We are extremely proud of Sam’s achievement and thankful for his continued commitment to safety.”

Maier, who also received awards after reaching the 1 and 2 million milestones, credits advances in vehicle technology for making roads safer.

“Trucks just keep getting better and better,” Maier said. “It’s just like cars; they keep upgrading them.”

He plans to keep trucking, at least in the short term.

“I’m going to try for a couple of more years,” he said.

“Trucks just keep getting better and better. It’s just like cars; they keep upgrading them.”Sam Maier, La Crosse trucker

Steve Rundio / STEVE RUNDIO, Tomah Newspapers 

Sam Maier of Holland Freight was recognized for 3 million accident-free miles since joining the company in 1990.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Mayor Tim Kabat has proposed the city repair La Crosse Street and seek funding from the state.


Wisconsin Badgers forward Ethan Happ (22) after having a foul called on him late in the 2nd half Sunday against the Michigan Wolverines. The Badgers lost to Michigan, 83-72.

Banter, bickering: Mic'd-up Olympic curlers 'on the nose'

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — The tension was thick. The mood was glacial. And the siblings were sparring.

“Hey, Becca. Come here,” American curler Matt Hamilton said to his frustrated sister, whose stone had just glided past its intended target. “Don’t roll your eyes at me.”

That eye roll turned into crossed arms, which turned into Wisconsin’s beloved brother-sister curling duo standing far apart on the Olympic ice, leaning on their respective brooms and diligently avoiding eye contact. Had it happened in just about any other sport, this fleeting spat during Sunday’s Olympic mixed doubles match would have gone unnoticed by the public. But in curling, every player wears a microphone.

And what fans get is a uniquely intimate view of the athletes as all their banter, bickering and baffling strategy-talk is carried across the airwaves to viewers worldwide.

In some ways, curling is the closest the Olympics comes to reality TV — which may help explain some of its cult allure to people watching at home.

“I feel like I’m best friends with @MattJamilton and @heccabamilton because I’ve spent so much time with them the last couple of days. Watching curling has become my life!!” one of the Hamiltons’ fans wrote on Twitter as Sunday’s game rolled on.

Even when no one is fighting, half the fun of listening to curlers is trying to decipher what they’re talking about. And with four games played simultaneously during Sunday’s mixed doubles round robin, it’s understandable if uninitiated viewers got a little confused.

“Hack weight, hack weight,” Canada’s John Morris said to his teammate Kaitlyn Lawes.

“Think you want to stay on the nose,” she replied.

“Yep, you betcha,” Morris concurred.

Let’s break that down: Morris wanted to throw the stone with enough momentum to reach the hack, those black push-off blocks on either end of the ice. Hitting a rock on the nose means hitting it straight on so the shooting rock sticks in place.

Got that? Good. What followed was a string of orders from Morris as Lawes began sweeping. “WHOA, WHOA, WHOA, WHOA, WHOA! CLEAN, CLEAN! WHOA! WHOA! YUP-YUP! HARD, HARD, HAAAAAARD!”

If you watch curling, you need to know these ubiquitous terms: “Whoa” means to stop sweeping. “Clean” means to lightly clear the ice of any debris in the rock’s path. And “HARD” means sweep as vigorously as you can.

Back on the U.S. vs. Finland ice sheet, the Hamiltons had put the drama behind them. “WHOA!” Matt called to his sister, who was sweeping. “Line’s good! Switch. Yup. HARD! Becca, GO!” The rock coasted to its intended spot, earning a compliment of “Beautiful” from Becca. “That’s pretty good!” Matt agreed.

Finland called a time out. It was their last throw of the game and they were up 7-3. If they missed the shot, however, the Hamiltons had a chance to tie it up as they had three rocks in the house with one rock left to throw. Finland’s coach Brian Gray ambled over to strategize.

“It’s quite obvious what we’re going to do,” player Tomi Rantamaeki said.

“Is it?” Gray replied, speaking for most of the viewing public.

What followed was a discussion of fast ice, playing the peel and looking for “anything between 10 percent and 50 percent on the side,” none of which was likely to make anything obvious to the vast majority of viewers. But what mattered was the result: Oona Kauste threw the stone and it knocked one of the Americans’ rocks out of the target, giving Finland its first round robin win, and prompting a congratulatory handshake from the Hamiltons.

Meanwhile, things were going swimmingly for Canada, as evidenced by the plethora of “Good shot” and “Nice scrub” compliments flowing between the teammates. And when it was over, after the Canadians had secured a 7-3 victory over Korea, shaken their opponents’ hands and waved appreciatively to the crowd, the microphones picked up Lawes discussing the less glamorous side of being an Olympian.

“Well,” she said. “I’m sweaty.”