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Lawmaker seeks northern road money (UPDATE)

By Paul Snyder

A state lawmaker wants an unknown amount of leftover stimulus money for unspecified road projects in northern Wisconsin.

“I just want to get the message out that there’s more to the state of Wisconsin than Milwaukee and Madison down to the Illinois state line,” said state Rep. Dan Meyer, R-Eagle River.

It’s a vague message to send to state lawmakers who want answers and an explanation of benefits, said state Rep. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.

“If we adopt something, then I want to be able to measure real improvement,” he said. “I’m not interested in throwing money against the wall and grabbing the headline for a political brochure.”

But northern Wisconsin needs more work, and road construction is one way to generate the jobs, said Meyer, who introduced a package of job growth bills Monday. The bills — authored by Meyer; state Rep. Don Friske, R-Merrill; state Rep. Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz; and state Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford — include such proposals as spurring more road construction and expanding tax credits for biofuels producers and new companies.

Meyer said he expects drafts of the bills to be finished in the next few days.

Although he identified a possible corridor project between highways 70 and 51 to allow for heavier trucks used by local lumber companies, Meyer did not single out other projects or how much they would cost. He said state money likely will be unavailable, so the lone revenue source should be federal stimulus money.

“I’m not asking for that, not for the purpose of this package,” Meyer said of trying to find state or local money for projects. “It’s a debate that needs to happen, but I’m not starting it here.”

The stimulus money being spent in, or headed toward, northern Wisconsin is not producing a lot of work, said Chuck Warner, vice president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139.

“There’s not a lot of dirt work,” he said. “The two big projects this area was looking at were the bypasses — connecting highways 29 and 39 in Wausau and 29 and 53 in Eau Claire — and now those are spoken for.”

Warner, who works in Local 139’s Altoona office, said most northern Wisconsin stimulus money is for bridge repairs or new asphalt. If the state gets more stimulus money, he said, it will likely be for smaller projects.

But with most stimulus projects already spoken for in 2010, Warner said, he’s skeptical there is any more to be had.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said of the bill’s chances of producing new work.

According to Wisconsin Department of Transportation documents, four stimulus road project lettings are scheduled from January to April 2010.

Throughout the state, 158 projects are scheduled, 71 of which are slated for northern Wisconsin. Of those 71, most are bridge and pavement replacements.

Jauch said the projects will continue to provide a helpful boost to the area.

Northern Wisconsin does not have the volume of traffic or population the Milwaukee and Madison areas do, he said, so trying to compete with those regions is unnecessary.

“We don’t have a Zoo Interchange up here, but an improvement of county Highway F is still a big deal to taxpayers, even if it’s not as much money,” he said. “You can’t make work if it’s not ready.”

Seeds for growth

A package of bills designed to spark job growth in northern Wisconsin includes proposals to:
*expedite permitting for companies to build or expand manufacturing facilities
*create a rapid-response team of state agency representatives to identify incentives for companies interested in coming to Wisconsin or considering leaving the state
*offer tax credits for harvesting operations
*make biofuels a major at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
*offer tax incentives for installation or use of biofuels equipment
*study the feasibility of schools using renewable fuels
*expand workers’ compensation so loggers can create a self-insurance pool of money
*require all unspecified federal stimulus project money go to reconstruction of roads and bridges identified as structurally deficient
*let the governor agree to a compact with Michigan identifying appropriate weight limits for vehicles traveling between the states

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