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City, county to fill stimulus committee vacancies

Dustin Block

There are three vacancies on the committee that will distribute $38.7 million in stimulus money in the Milwaukee area.

Milwaukee County has two vacancies and the city of Milwaukee has one on the advisory committee to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. The city and county each have five spots on the 19-member committee, formally called the Advisory Committee on Transportation System Planning and Programming for the Milwaukee Urbanized Area.

Representatives in the offices of Mayor Tom Barrett and County Executive Scott Walker said this week they will fill the vacancies before the stimulus money is distributed.

Walker spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin said the county needs to formalize its representatives on the advisory committee. The county always had five representatives at committee meetings, she said, but the members rotated depending on the meeting topics.

Barrett spokeswoman Jodie Tabak also said the city always had five representatives at committee meetings but has not formally appointed one of its five members.

The committee, which was to meet Friday, will play the deciding role in the distribution of stimulus money to Milwaukee-area communities, said Kenneth Yunker, executive director of SEWRPC.

But what’s unknown, he said, is how many projects will meet the criteria established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Will there be too many? Too little? What’s there going to be?” Yunker said. “I don’t know.”

Local communities throughout the state have until April 1 to submit projects for what’s known as “Stage II” stimulus money. The state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved $42.5 million in “Stage I” projects March 17.

For local road and bridge projects, there is another $158 million available, including the $38.7 million for the Milwaukee Urbanized Area, which includes Milwaukee County and portions of Washington, Waukesha and Ozaukee counties.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will determine which local projects are eligible for the next round of stimulus money, Yunker said. Once the eligible projects are known, he said, it will be up to the advisory committee to recommend how to spend the money. SEWRPC has never ignored the committee’s recommendation, Yunker said.

The competition could be fierce as the committee decides how to dole out money for the road and bridge projects, Yunker said. Bridge projects, in particular, could be competitive because it’s a new type of project the advisory committee doesn’t usually consider, he said. There’s precedent for how the committee distributes money for road projects, Yunker said.

Bridge projects are an attractive option for local communities because they can be quickly designed, said Michael Lewis, city engineer for West Allis. Road projects take more time, he said, and will be difficult to complete in time to qualify for stimulus money.

Plans, specifications and estimates for projects applying for local stimulus money are due May 1. These projects need to be bid by mid-summer, according to WisDOT. Projects scheduled for bid in February 2010 have a Dec. 1 deadline to submit specific plans.

Brookfield on Wednesday submitted a $200,000 roadside landscaping project for stimulus money, said Tom Grisa, the city’s director of public works and a member of the SEWRPC advisory committee. The city probably will submit one more project by the April 1 deadline, he said.

Grisa said he is unsure how the projects will fare, and, like many people, is confused by the stimulus application process.

“It continues to change and evolve,” he said.

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