Just Fix It Wisconsin

Zoo Interchange completion to be delayed under DOT budget proposal 9/15/2016

9/15/2016, Milwaukee Business Journal – The north leg of the Zoo Interchange would not be completely rebuilt until 2022, a two-year delay, under the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s biennial budget proposal.

The budget request for the 2017-2019 biennium is sent to Gov. Scott Walker as several organizations and local governments are reviewing funding options to keep up with transportation needs. The DOT proposal does not include new fees or an increase to the gas tax. The proposal increases road aids to local governments over the current two-year budget, and decreases overall highway spending.

Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said the budget proposal prioritizes the state’s needs. Walker will review the DOT request while compiling a budget proposal that will be sent to the Legislature for review.

“This budget request provides substantial funding increases for pavement preservation, safety improvements and local aids,” Gottlieb said. “All of this can be accomplished without any fee or fuel tax increase and with limited borrowing.”

The Transportation Development Association, which counts local governments and transportation builders and engineers among its membership, called the proposal “short-sighted and troubling.” Executive director Craig Thompson said the group will advocate for a more “sustainable solution.”

“It would provide, for the next two years, needed investment at the local level, but at the expense of important economic corridors,” Thompson said of the DOT’s requested budget. “Crucial safety improvements called for by WisDOT on some of the busiest stretches of interstate in Wisconsin would not proceed.”

Ideas examined in the past to raise more money for transportation include increasing the gas tax, or implementing a per-mile fee on drivers. Tolls also have been floated as an option.

Spending on the highway program is proposed to be $2.4 billion, a $447.3 million decrease from the current biennium, according to a budget summary Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker released Thursday. That includes $1.7 billion for the state highway rehab program, the highest amount ever budgeted, according to the summary.

Most of the overall highway spending decrease is due to a $292 million decrease in spending on so-called mega-projects in southeast Wisconsin, including the Zoo Interchange.

The Zoo Interchange core is under construction now, and will be completed as scheduled in fiscal year 2019, according to the DOT proposal.

However the north leg of the interchange, which includes Interstate 41 between Swan Boulevard and Burleigh Street, would be delayed two years. It was originally scheduled for completion in 2018, but was delayed two years in the current biennial budget. It would be pushed back another two under the latest plan.

The budget has $122 million for mega-projects in southeast Wisconsin, including $91 million for the Zoo Interchange reconstruction, and $31 million for prep work for the reconstruction of east-west Interstate 94 between the Zoo and Marquette interchanges. That compares with $414.6 million allocated to major southeast Wisconsin projects from 2015 through 2017.

The budget proposes $500 million in bonding, which is the lowest level since the 2001-2003 biennium.

The budget also includes increases in money to be shared with local governments for road projects. County transportation aid would increase 8.1 percent over the current two-year budget, and aid to municipalities would grow 4.7 percent. The overall two-year budget for general transportation aid would be $885.3 million, compared with $839.3 million in the current biennium.

Spending for local bridge projects would increase to $21.9 million from $16.9 million.