County walks the line for federal money
A redrawn boundary may help Washington County receive millions of dollars in stimulus money to rebuild two highways.
County officials reached a deal with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission last week to cut a section of Germantown out of the Milwaukee Urbanized Area.
The Milwaukee Urbanized Area has $38.7 million in money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to spend on road and bridge projects.
The new boundary places Washington County’s Highway Y outside of the urbanized area.
Areas outside of Milwaukee and Madison are eligible for $79.3 million in stimulus money for transportation projects. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has an additional $54 million in stimulus money for projects anywhere in the state.
Doug Johnson, Washington County’s administrative coordinator, said he believes the $4.2 million Highway Y project has a better chance of being paid for by statewide dollars than money designated for the Milwaukee area.
“At the very least, Milwaukee doesn’t have to worry about that project,” Johnson said.
The new boundary also unravels one strand of a tangled debate between state and local planning officials on how best to spend the $38.7 million.
A SEWRPC advisory committee of 19 members has to decide what projects to pay for with the stimulus money. The city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County control 10 of the 19 positions on the committee.
Washington County applied for stimulus money to rebuild Highway Y and Highway Q this year. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance approved the projects, but they failed to move forward after it was discovered the projects were within the Milwaukee Urbanized Area. The committee in charge of the Milwaukee area’s $38.7 million voted against Washington County’s projects.
WisDOT supports the projects because construction could begin this summer as opposed to 2010 for most of the projects submitted for the Milwaukee area’s stimulus money. Frank Busalacchi, in an April 27 letter, urged the committee to approve the Washington County projects.
But Milwaukee city and county officials object to the Washington County highway projects and a bridge project in River Hills taking more than a quarter of the stimulus money available for communities in all of Milwaukee County and portions of Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington and Racine counties.
Johnson said Washington County’s projects will put people to work immediately. But he said the odds are stacked against the advisory committee supporting the Highway Q project.
“There’s no reason to predict we would prevail in this,” Johnson said, “unless the committee members decide it’s important to provide jobs in 2009.”
SEWRPC’s advisory committee met April 30 but failed to distribute the stimulus money. SEWRPC staff now is working on proposals for the committee to consider, said Kenneth Yunker, SEWRPC’s executive director.
He said the committee needs to balance fairness in distributing stimulus money with a requirement the money benefit economically distressed areas and employ workers as quickly as possible.
Allison Bussler, interim public works director for Waukesha County, said the SEWRPC advisory committee will debate how to weigh the three factors. She favors giving out stimulus money based on the existing formula used to distribute federal highway money with some consideration of economic conditions.
Yunker said whatever formula the committee chooses, 80 percent of the projects that applied for stimulus won’t get money. Communities in the Milwaukee area submitted about $218 million worth of work for $38.7 million in stimulus money, he said.