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Stimulus projects get second-round bid extension

Sean Ryan
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Municipalities on Friday learned they will have another opportunity to submit projects for federal stimulus cash and will have one year, rather than 75 days, to prepare to bid the work.

City officials said the extension will open the door for more projects to get stimulus cash, but it still will be difficult to meet the deadline.

“The difference is 365 minus 75,” said Fred Abadi, director of public works for the city of Waukesha. “For me, a year is pretty good, pretty reasonable, and I’m glad the (Wisconsin Department of Transportation) secretary is doing that.”

A Feb. 6 letter from WisDOT gave municipalities until Feb. 18 to submit lists of projects for stimulus and until March 17 to prepare plans for the project specifications and estimates. The deadline to prepare bidding documents was extended to May 1, and the projects will have until Dec. 31 to be built, according to an e-mail sent Friday from the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities.

The Alliance reported the list of eligible projects includes 37 bridges worth $16 million and 22 projects worth $35 million in the road, bridge and Wisconsin Local Transportation Enhancements Program. The transportation enhancements program pays for bicycle or pedestrian facilities, landscaping or streetscaping projects.

WisDOT’s original deadline to have projects ready to bid was based on a draft of the federal stimulus bill; the final stimulus package affords more time for project preparation, said WisDOT Executive Assistant Christopher Klein. WisDOT will create future opportunities for municipalities to apply for stimulus money, and those will give municipalities until the end of the year to prepare plans, he said.

The only projects eligible for stimulus money are those that already qualify for federal money under other existing programs. That cuts out municipal street projects.

“There is no wiggle room,” Klein said of the stimulus package.

The federal stimulus package includes $38.7 million for the seven-county southeastern Wisconsin area, $9.7 million for the Madison area and $109 million for the rest of the state, according to the Alliance of Cities e-mail.

The original deadline would have disqualified everything save projects that were already designed, estimated and ready to bid, said Milwaukee City Engineer Jeff Polenske. A year is an improvement, but it is still a tight timeline, he said.

“With a year’s time, it’s still a crunched, expedited period for the type of projects that we’re speaking of,” he said.

The stimulus package discourages municipalities from submitting projects for which they already applied for federal money, Abadi said. But municipalities don’t spend money engineering street projects until they get a federal commitment, he said.

“Based on the current rules, regulations and environmental laws in place,” he said, “there aren’t really a lot of ready-to-construct projects.”

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