Legislature’s Budget Committee Approves Federal Funding For I-94, Local Roads

GOP Sen. Alberta Darling: 'The Roads In Illinois Are Much Better Than I-94 Going In And Out Of Wisconsin'

Westbound Highway 94 leaving Milwaukee
A view of westbound Highway 94 leaving Milwaukee. Gretchen Brown/WPR

The Legislature’s budget committee has approved splitting $67 million in new federal transportation money between a stretch of interstate near the site of Wisconsin’s Foxconn plant and other Wisconsin bridges and highways.

Under the plan approved Thursday, the state Department of Transportation will spend about $22 million of the new federal funding on the reconstruction of I-94 North-South in Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee counties.

A state fund for highway and local bridge improvements would get about $38.6 million, while another $6.7 million would go to other state highway projects.

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Construction on the I-94 expansion, which began in 2009, involves rebuilding existing lanes and adding a fourth lane in each direction from Milwaukee County to the Illinois state line.

“The roads in Illinois are much better than I-94 going in and out of Wisconsin, so this is a road in need of being finished,” said state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, the co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee.

The I-94 funding approved by GOP lawmakers was about $15 million less than Gov. Scott Walker wanted to spend.

Republicans increased state borrowing by $252 million last year as part of the Foxconn deal Walker signed into law last year. This extra $22 million would be on top of that.

The funding comes at a time when Republicans who run state government have been unable to agree on how, or even whether, to increase funding for other road projects across the state.

“We need to be fixing our roads first, not directing more money to fund Foxconn,” said state Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.

Democrats proposed spending all of the additional I-94 funding on resurfacing and rebuilding local roads instead.

Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, supported the Democratic plan, which otherwise failed on a party-line vote. Marklein is up for re-election in November in a district that’s among the state’s most competitive.

The GOP plan passed the committee on a 10-5 vote, with Marklein joining Democrats to vote against.

Darling said it was important to finish I-94 because of what it means to Wisconsin’s economy, especially its tourism industry.

“I-94 North-South is a major highway in and out of Wisconsin,” Darling said. “This is not the Foxconn highway.”

In addition to the funding approved Thursday, Walker recently announced the state had won an additional $160 million in federal highway money for I-94 North-South.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said the project would still need additional state funding to be completed by 2021, the year discussed when the Foxconn bill was passed.