MADISON (AP) — A federal appellate panel on Monday dismissed state officials’ efforts to obtain federal money to expand a highway between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan.
Wisconsin officials have been trying to secure federal money to widen a 19-mile stretch of Highway 23. A Wisconsin Department of Transportation report from February 2017 put the cost of that work at between $150 million and $158 million.
An environmental group called 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit in 2011 to stop the project. The group argued that a federal environmental impact statement was incomplete and that, without it, the federal government should not be allowed to distribute money for the project.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman sided with the organization in May 2015, vacating the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision to pay for the project.
Wisconsin transportation officials appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but the federal government did not. A three-judge panel from the appellate court ruled 2-1 on Monday that the federal government’s not to appeal foreclosed any other challenges. Judge Frank Easterbrook, writing for the majority, said Wisconsin can’t seek relief against a judgment that doesn’t bind it, noting the state can proceed with the project using its own money.
Dennis Grzezinski, 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin’s attorney, said he was pleased with the decision.
The state could appeal to the full 7th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. Patty Mayers, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Transportation, said in an email that the agency is in the process of “developing the best option to move this project forward.” She didn’t elaborate.
Court filings from 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin put the cost of the project at $168 million by February 2015. Mayers didn’t immediately respond to an email asking about the discrepancy between the group’s figure and the figures in the 2017 report.