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Sauk City stops Highway 12 expansion

By Paul Snyder

Sauk City refuses to let the state expand Highway 12 within village borders until someone comes up with more than $1 million to move the sewer, water and electric lines under the road.

“We feel if the state is going to do this project and come in and tell us it’s going to be about $1.2 million, we shouldn’t have to pay for that,” said Village Trustee Richard Marks. “It’s not like it’s a village street, and we’re the ones in there tearing everything up.”

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation had scheduled for this year the expansion of Highway 12 from two to four lanes through the village, said Village Administrator Vicki Bruenig.

Now the project start is on indefinite hold.

State Rep. Steve Hilgenberg, D-Dodgeville, said the delay likely will last at least one year. Hilgenberg and state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, introduced identical bills in the state Assembly and Senate that would make the state pay to move Sauk City-owned utility lines, but Hilgenberg said he does not expect much movement before the session ends in April.

“It’s going to be hard to get a vote on anything with a price tag attached at this point,” he said. “It’s probably something we’re going to have to try to get into the next state budget.”

Marks said the village would have started years ago budgeting for the $1.2 million expense, but, he said, WisDOT representatives only last year told the village the price would go beyond $1 million.

“For a long time, we were all under the impression it was going to be a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Marks said, though he did not say what the original estimate was. He said the village was waiting for a final estimate before setting aside money in the budget.

WisDOT representatives did not return calls for comment.

The village lines have to be moved, Bruenig said, because the reconstruction will lower portions of the road.

“If it was our road, we would not change our utilities,” she said. “Some of our water mains are only 20 years old. There’s no reason for us to even think about retiring them at this point.”

The village has sought federal grants to cover the projected costs, but so far nothing has come through, Bruenig said.

If Sauk City does not get federal money and the state bills are still in limbo by the time the village begins working on its 2011 budget, Marks said, there is a chance the village could set money aside.

“This isn’t going to get any cheaper,” he said. “And we know it’s going to have to be done. Traffic is projected to grow, and we’re just going to be dealing with more congestion if nothing is done.”

The village of Merrimac last year had to pay to move utility lines for the Highway 12/78 expansion. In that case, state lawmakers amended the 2009-11 state budget to let the village pay for only 25 percent of the utility switch, while the state picked up 75 percent.

Marks said Sauk City leaders could agree to a similar deal, but it’s unfair for the village to shoulder all or most of the cost.

If the village pays the entire bill, Bruenig said, local taxpayers would suffer.

“We just don’t have the money to do it,” she said. “If we were going to pay for it, we would have to do some significant borrowing, and our residents would see a drastic increase in rates.

“This project isn’t to the benefit of the village; it’s to the benefit of traffic moving between Middleton and Baraboo.”

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