RACINE COUNTY — The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has received a $160 million federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, grant to assist in funding construction of the Interstate 94 north-south freeway project in Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee counties. The grant is expected to carve years off the project timeline.
However, the $160 million is $86 million less than the state requested, which raised questions about how the rest of the roadwork will be funded — and whether money could be siphoned away from other projects to do so.
The I-94 north-south project includes widening and rebuilding stretches of the interstate and is expected to cost about $500 million.
“We are interested in where the other $80-plus million is going to come from — and what it otherwise could have been used for,” said Craig Thompson, director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, which advocates for funding for roads, bridges and transit.
Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, said in an email that other projects won’t be sidetracked because the state got less than it hoped from the federal government. Evenson wrote that the state plans to allocate existing transportation cash “that will allow funds to be available for the (project) while not delaying any other road projects in the state.”
Walker’s office Wednesday said Wisconsin will receive a total of $227.4 million in new federal funding for the state’s roads and bridges in fiscal year 2018. The new federal funds include Wisconsin receiving the largest INFRA grant, or its predecessor FASTLANE, in state history, and other supplemental federal funding. The Wisconsin DOT applied for this grant last October.
The record-setting federal grant for Wisconsin is expected to open all I-94 lanes to traffic by Memorial Day weekend of 2020 with full completion by 2021, 11 years ahead of schedule. The I-94 north-south expansion project began in 2008 and stretches 36 miles from the city of Milwaukee past the Wisconsin/Illinois state line.
“Not only are we keeping projects on time, we’re actually going to be able to do more projects across the state and get them done faster,” Walker stated.
Last October, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.,wrote to U.S. Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao on the importance of this grant for southeastern Wisconsin.
“Maintaining our transportation infrastructure is crucial to economic growth in Wisconsin,” Baldwin stated. “That’s why I’m proud to work across party lines to secure needed funding for our state’s infrastructure.”
Wisconsin also received another $67.4 million in supplemental highway funds and redistribution funds, $30 million of which is planned by the state Department of Transportation to fund 49 more local bridge projects throughout the state.
Locally, reactions to the news about the grant for I-94 work were positive.
Mount Pleasant Village President Dave DeGroot stated, “We’ve been hard at work to coordinate the necessary roadway improvements to our local roads; this grant will ensure that I-94 will also receive the necessary improvements needed to move people within and through our region in the most efficient, timely and effective way possible and will reduce state taxpayer investment associated with the project.”
Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave stated, “With Racine County preparing for massive growth in the coming years, the INFRA grant is crucial to upgrading our infrastructure and improving this critical corridor for our community.” That was a reference to the coming $10 billion Foxconn Technology Group project in southwest Mount Pleasant, a 22 million-square-foot manufacturing campus that is supposed to be in operation by 2021.
“The INFRA grant is truly historic for Wisconsin,” stated Jenny Trick, executive director of Racine County Economic Development Corp. “...It is another example of the type of follow-on investment we’re seeing come to our state as a result of Foxconn’s decision to locate in Racine County.”
“The economic growth in this region is about to explode, and we must have a safe and reliable roadway,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, stated.
“Not only are we keeping projects on time, we’re actually going to be able to do more projects across the state and get them done faster.” Gov. Scott Walker