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WisDOT pulls more projects from August letting

With the state’s next budget nearly a month past its original due date, three projects related to the massive Zoo Interchange reconstruction were withdrawn Wednesday from the WisDOT’s list of bid lettings for August.

The projects affected called for preparatory work on the Zoo Interchange’s northern leg, between Swan Boulevard and North Avenue; the construction of a detention pond near North Avenue; and the construction of a noise wall along Interstate 894 from a railroad bridge to Lincoln Avenue. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s website did not say when the lettings would be rescheduled.

A WisDOT spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The withdrawal comes nearly two weeks after the department said it would take out of the August letting plans for the reconstruction of Interstate 94’s interchange with Ryan Road in Oak Creek. The department has since said it now intends to include that work in its letting in September.

Wednesday’s withdrawal of three more projects came as little surprise to road builders and industry officials, who have been anxiously waiting for lawmakers to break their impasse over the state’s next budget. Legislators have been struggling to find a widely acceptable way to come up with the $1 billion that will be needed to keep transportation projects proceeding over the next two years according to current plans.

The divide has cut right through the Republican party, which now controls both houses of the state Legislature and the governor’s office. GOP lawmakers in the Assembly have been at odds with their counterparts in the Senate and Gov. Scott Walker on how to fund the state’s transportation budget.

The latest proposal aimed at breaking through the impasse came last week from Walker, who said he was willing to take $200 million he had once proposed for income-tax cuts and instead put it toward road projects. Assembly Republicans quickly accepted the idea, but their colleagues in the Senate have shown some signs of hesitancy.

When the new budget was not passed by the July 1 deadline, state government did not come to a halt. Rather than shut down, it reverted to operating on what is known as a “base level” of spending – which provides enough to keep offices up and running but significantly less for road projects.

A recent memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau warned that a development of this sort would eventually lead to delays in road projects. Especially at risk would be projects in the state’s Southeast Megaprojects program, including the Zoo Interchange.

All of this has been known for a while, said Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin. So the latest withdrawal of Zoo Interchange bidding opportunities was “not surprising.”

“It’s just one more element of this ongoing situation,” he said.

Steve Baas, senior vice president of government affairs with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said he was optimistic that lawmakers would work out a compromise soon. His hope is that, with a new budget in hand, long-planned road work will get back on schedule.

“I’m not going to panic on this delay,” Baas said. “It does put a spotlight on the need for a budget to pass.”

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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