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I-94 Construction

A file photo shows work on Interstate 94.

MADISON — A $67 million infusion of federal funding should go to local bridges and state highways instead of a freeway project near the Foxconn site in Racine County, Democrats on the state Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee argued Thursday.

The committee met to consider a state Department of Transportation request to spend the federal money.

At issue was how Gov. Scott Walker’s administration will fund the Interstate 94 North-South project south of Milwaukee. That stretch of interstate runs near the Mount Pleasant site where Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics maker, is building a massive manufacturing and research campus.

A funding gap for the project emerged after the state got about $160 million, or $86 million less than it sought, from the federal government for it.

On Thursday, Walker’s administration proposed to close the gap in part with $37.4 million in federal funds for I-94 North-South. Its plan called for spending an additional $30 million on local bridge repairs.

Joint Finance Republicans ultimately tweaked the Walker administration proposal and allotted about $22 million to a program that funds I-94 North-South. Under the plan they passed Thursday, about $38.6 million would go to local bridges and $6.7 million to state highway resurfacing and reconstruction.

Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, was the lone Republican to vote with Democrats against the GOP plan. Marklein said after the meeting that he wanted to see all the money go to rebuilding and reconstructing local bridges and state highways.

“I want to fight for as much money for rural Wisconsin as I can,” Marklein said.

The partially completed I-94 North-South project, which has about $548 million of work remaining, calls for widening and upgrading the portion of the interstate connecting the Milwaukee and Chicago areas.

On Thursday, Joint Finance Democrats sought to take the $37.4 million that Walker proposed for the I-94 project and put it toward resurfacing and rebuilding state highways instead. Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, introduced the Democratic plan saying “our state roads are falling apart.”

Taylor and other Democrats say they support finishing the I-94 project but other roads throughout the state also need improvement.

“Foxconn is getting an absolute windfall. What our motion does is make sure the communities of this state, they get some of this money,” Taylor said.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said Walker previously delayed the I-94 North-South project and “suddenly it become a priority” when Foxconn announced plans to locate near it.

Democrats also pounced on a comment by Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, co-chairwoman of the finance committee, that Illinois’ roads are in better shape than Wisconsin’s.

Republicans who control the committee voted down the Democratic plan Thursday, 10-5. Marklein joined Democrats in voting for it. Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, was absent from the meeting to serve military duty.

The state is providing as much as $3.2 billion to the Foxconn project, a figure that depends in part on how many jobs are created at the campus.

Darling said improving I-94 doesn’t just benefit Foxconn.

“This is not the Foxconn highway. This is a major highway,” Darling said.

Darling and other GOP lawmakers, such as Reps. Mark Born of Beaver Dam and Mary Felzkowski of Irma, emphasized the importance of the I-94 project for helping move tourists and freight in and out of Wisconsin.

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said it’s past time to finish the project, which began in 2009.

“I know it’s political season and all that stuff. But let’s just move forward and get this done,” Olsen said.

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