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Lawmakers approve DOT plan for $280M in federal highway funding

Part of the funding comes from the bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden

Highway traffic
Gregory Bull/AP Photo

The Legislature’s budget committee has approved the bulk of a plan by the state Department of Transportation to spend more than $280 million in extra federal highway aid.

The funding is roughly 35 percent higher than Wisconsin expected to receive from the federal government when the Legislature passed the current state budget last year.

Part of the funding came from the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden in November while the rest came from a federal funding bill passed in March. The bipartisan infrastructure plan totaled roughly $1 trillion.

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The Wisconsin DOT’s plan for the money would spend about $124 million on state highway rehabilitation, $83 million on local transportation facilities and $61 million on local bridge improvements.

The DOT’s plan also calls for spending about $10 million on a program that funds the construction and planning of on-road and off-road bicycle, pedestrian and other non-motorized vehicle facilities, as well as viewing areas like overlooks and turnouts.

The only point of conflict on the funding was over the DOT’s plan to spend $4 million on a “Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program,” which funds projects like improvements to traffic signal timing to improve traffic flow or the construction of bicycle facilities for commuters. Under a modification authored by Republicans, that funding could only be used on projects that reduce congestion or improve traffic flow within a highway right-of-way, meaning they could not be used for bicycle facilities.

GOP lawmakers, including state Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, the co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee, all voted in favor of the modified plan.

“I think that overall the plan is — since the money’s here — is a good investment in our infrastructure,” Born said.

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg also supported the plan even as he criticized the federal funds.

“They’re printing lots of it and they’re sending it out and we’re getting some of it,” Stroebel said. “And it comes with a whole bunch of strings, as most federal money always does.”

Stroebel issued a statement after the meeting suggesting that because of the boost in federal funding, state lawmakers should object to any efforts to raise transportation revenues in Wisconsin.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, praised Gov. Tony Evers’ administration for coming up with a plan for the funds, which the state could have lost if the projects were not approved quickly. He also criticized Republicans for modifying the air quality funding.

“What’s partisan is nickel and diming programs by limiting their scope because you think you know better,” Goyke said.

The budget committee approved the funding on a 14-1 vote with only Goyke voting against.

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