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Milwaukee snatches stimulus money

Sean Ryan
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The last round of the state’s federal stimulus money for local roads was distributed unfairly, according to a highway commissioner whose county received nothing.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, according to federal stimulus rules, gives a preference to projects in economically distressed areas. But Washington County does not meet the income, unemployment and other criteria set by the federal government, said Jon Edgren, the county’s highway commissioner.

Edgren said economic factors should not influence which projects receive stimulus road money. Because those factors come into play, the county’s $3.5 million realignment of Highway Y in Germantown was left out of the second round of state stimulus awards for bridge and road projects.

The project lost out to work in other areas that meet the federal criteria even though Germantown, which does not qualify as a distressed area, had an unemployment rate of 10.1 percent in June.

“To me, I consider it a pretty gray area,” Edgren said. “They talk about lots of different things to consider.”

He said projects in Washington County attract workers from the entire region, so the location of the work should not make a difference. He said Milwaukee-based Kapur and Associates Inc. is an engineer on the estimated $3.8 million Highway Q project in Washington County, which received stimulus money in the first round of allotments.

“The people that are going to be working on that project are from Washington County, but also from Milwaukee County,” he said.

Gov. Jim Doyle on Friday gave priority to projects in low-income areas when awarding the remaining $75.4 million in stimulus money for roads and bridges. Local governments sent the state $92.6 million in requests.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance must approve the awards.

The city of Milwaukee would receive more than $10 million if the committee approves the awards, but there are no projects from Waukesha, Ozaukee or Washington counties.

Debate earlier this year centered on how to distribute $38.7 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money the Legislature earmarked for the Milwaukee area. The Legislature recommended awarding money to the Highway Y project in Washington County, but a panel of local representatives instead chose other projects.

Ken Yunker, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, said he does not expect much debate over the most recent awards. Local representatives must agree to let the projects proceed, he said, but cannot shift money from, for instance, a Milwaukee city project to the Highway Y job.

If local governments do not like what they are getting, the money could end up in a different part of the state, Yunker said.

“So I would expect the communities and the local governments would accept this funding,” he said.

The city of Milwaukee earlier this year accelerated planning for the 12 projects most recently selected for stimulus money, said Clark Wontach, Milwaukee Department of Public Works transportation manager. The deadline to bid the jobs is in February, he said, and construction is slated for spring 2010.

Edgren said he will continue to pursue stimulus for the Highway Y project, which has been in the works for10 years, in case other projects that were selected cannot meet the engineering and bidding deadlines.

“We are prepared, potentially,” he said, “to move forward with it with county funds in 2010.”


  1. Clearly, the federal requirement that favors economically distressed areas for stimulus-funded infrastructure investment benefitted the City of Milwaukee, but those rules didn’t prevent suburban areas from sharing in stimulus funds.

    In fact, in the earlier round of stimulus decisions overseen by SEWRPC, the City of Milwaukee and its representatives reached a deal that will direct 40% of that $38.7 to city streets and sent the remainder to suburban areas, including $6.3 million for Waukesha County highways and nearly $1 million for an Ozaukee County highway. According to the Journal Sentinel, an additional $4 million went to eight street and bridge projects in Greenfield, Mequon, Ocomonowoc Lake, Waukesha, Wauwatosa and West Allis.

    The City of Milwaukee has approximately 35% of the metro area’s population and a huge concentration of roads so you’d expect it to receive a sizable share of stimulus funding, especially when federal rules required that economically distressed areas not be short-changed. While not every smaller community such as Gernmantown was able to benefit, clearly a lot of suburbs that aren’t economically disadvantaged also benefitted from this stimulus spending.

  2. I’m curious then, who paid for all the preliminary work at that site that was done. Surveying, Engineering, tree clearing, silt fencing, power pole relocating, etc? There had to be money for that…and now there’s not?

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