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State transportation battle to begin

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Interstate 94

Trucks travel through Racine County on Interstate 94 on June 24, 2015. 

RACINE COUNTY — The battle over roads funding is about to heat up.

A hearing has been set for Dec. 6 on the state Department of Transportation’s budget proposal, which drew the ire of many Racine-area leaders for creating more delays on Interstate 94 construction.

State legislators, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, say they are looking for a long-term solution — something that has eluded them for years — on how to fund road construction.

Vos and other state Assembly leaders have said the DOT proposal falls short of providing one. But in the Assembly Republicans’ report called “No Easy Answers” released earlier this month, they also said they have found no obvious solution.

“Now that the election is behind us, the discussions really begin,” said Vos, R-Rochester.

Walker, Vos split

The hearing will be held in front of the Assembly Transportation Committee at 10 a.m. Dec. 6 in the state Capitol.

Vos has said he wants to keep all options on the table, including ways to generate revenue. That could be a stumbling block with Gov. Scott Walker, who has ruled out tax or fee increases without a corresponding cut elsewhere.

Legislators’ first focus will be on cutting costs, said Vos, who wants to prioritize spending within the DOT budget.

“Most people probably don’t know this, but 90 percent of all of the money that is spent on road construction is on maintenance and repair,” Vos said. “We can look at the 10 percent that goes toward new highways or expansions ... but that’s why I want to keep all options on the table.”

Vos wants to reinstate funding for the I-94 North-South Project, which extends from Milwaukee through Racine County to the Illinois state line. Walker’s proposal would push back several interchange projects, an intersection reconstruction, I-94 repaving and other improvements planned in Racine County.

Walker has touted the plan for including no fee or tax increases, reducing borrowing and giving local governments a $65 million increase in aid. He pushed Vos and others critical of the plan to offer an alternative.

The debate over roads funding will carry over to state budget deliberations, which begin early next year.

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