Wisconsin Republicans to expand I-94 and cut state funding for transit


MADISON – The Legislative Budget committee on Tuesday night approved reconstruction of I-94 west of downtown Milwaukee, called for cutting state funding for transit to Milwaukee and Madison and agreed to allow teenagers to obtain driver’s licenses without having to take tests at Division of Motor Vehicles centers.

Republicans have said halving state funding for transit programs in Milwaukee and Madison is in order as they receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid due to the coronavirus pandemic . They have not cut transit programs in other cities that receive additional federal assistance.

The Joint Finance Committee passed the 11-4 transport plan, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats against.

Despite Tuesday’s unbalanced vote, rebuilding I-94 turned out to be one of the few ideas in the state budget to enjoy bipartisan support.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has long called for a restart of the project, which Republican Scott Walker canceled 3.5 years ago when he was governor. Republicans who control the budget committee on Tuesday rallied behind his plan, which would allow construction to start in a few years.

The work is expected to cost over $ 1.1 billion. The state would devote $ 82 million in state and federal funding to the project over the next two years for planning and preparation.

The committee approved the proposal hours after learning that the state would receive $ 4.4 billion more over three years than expected.

The Republicans used some of this recovered money for roads.

Transportation projects are typically funded by gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, but fundraising has declined as vehicle and gasoline purchases plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic.

To alleviate this funding problem, Republicans agreed to spend $ 200 million in income and sales taxes on transportation.

The on-again, off-again project is gaining momentum

Evers and Republicans have called for reconstruction of I-94 between 16th and 70th Streets in Milwaukee – the busy stretch between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges. The Evers Transport Ministry recommended widening the section from six lanes to eight, which drew opposition from neighbors, environmental groups and Evers Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.

Business groups have said the project is critical to the region’s economy.

The DOT announced in April that it would conduct a further review of the project, which would delay construction by at least a year. The project could start no earlier than the end of 2022.

Other projects in the mix

Republicans have agreed to spend $ 565.6 million on other large-scale projects, with most of that funding going towards I-43 expansion in Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties.

Like Evers, the committee supported spending about $ 2 billion in state and federal funds over two years for the reconstruction, rehabilitation and resurfacing of highways.

As part of the plan adopted on Tuesday, the state would spend $ 1 million to fence off the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee to prevent ice, tires, auto parts and other debris from falling on the Summerfest grounds and buildings in the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

End driving tests for teenagers

During the pandemic, the Evers administration allowed teenagers to get their driver’s licenses without taking a driving test at a DMV center. Republicans have joined Evers’ proposal to make this policy permanent.

Driving tests would not be required for those under the age of 18 who have held a driver’s license for at least six months, who have taken a driving course, who have not been found guilty of a traffic code violation. route within the previous six months and who have their parents’ permission to waive the exam. They would have to pay a $ 15 fee to have the test canceled.

More aid to local communities, cuts in public transport

The committee backed Evers’ plan to provide local governments with an additional $ 19.1 million over two years to repair their roads. This would be enough to provide them with a 2% increase in transportation funding in each of the next two years.

In addition, Republicans have agreed to provide $ 100 million over two years as a separate program to help local governments complete transportation projects.

The committee’s plan would cut funding for transit systems in half in Milwaukee and Madison, the state’s two largest cities. This would reduce their funding over two years by $ 41.3 million.

The Milwaukee County transit system receives more than $ 215 million in COVID-19 assistance and Madison receives approximately $ 70 million.

Other transit systems, including those in Green Bay and Appleton, are also receiving an influx of federal aid due to COVID-19. Republicans did not vote to cut aid to these communities.

Body cameras for state soldiers

The committee approved spending of $ 700,000 to equip state patrol soldiers with body cameras.

In recent weeks, the committee has also funded body cameras for Department of Natural Resources guards, but not for the Capitol Police officers who protect the State Capitol.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

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