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Milwaukee wants infrastructure spending bump in capital budget

By: Alex Zank, [email protected]//April 22, 2016//

Milwaukee wants infrastructure spending bump in capital budget

By: Alex Zank, [email protected]//April 22, 2016//

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Contractors may be able to expect even more work on Milwaukee’s bridges and streets in the near future, if the preliminary capital-budget requests made by individual departments are any sign.

Milwaukee’s draft capital-improvements budget for 2017 now calls for spending $25 million more than this year’s budget on infrastructure. Department of Public Works officials are now requesting nearly $99.4 million for that purpose, up from $74 million this year.

Still, the request, which was discussed Friday by members of the city’s Capital Improvements Committee, is only preliminary and could easily be pared back before being finally adopted.

Among the specific requests for next year, city officials are calling for increasing the budget for major bridges almost 10 fold. This year’s request would put $12 million worth of state and federal money toward those projects, up from $1.3 million in the current spending plan.

Most of the additional money for major bridges is not to come from taxpayers. Of the $12 million total expense, about $9.9 million would instead be obtained through grants or aid money, according to city records.

The remaining $2 million or so would come from Milwaukee, increasing the city’s appropriation for that purpose by $860,000.

The capital-budget request has a long way to go before it’s final. Speaking at Friday morning’s committee meeting, Alderman Nik Kovac said approvals are still needed from several places in city government, including the Common Council and the mayor’s office.

The city’s Capital Improvements Committee is responsible for revising and keeping up to date a long-term capital-improvement plan that pays for construction and maintenance of the city’s infrastructure and buildings.

Beyond the requests for major bridges, the Department of Public Works is asking for $42.2 million worth of street reconstruction and resurfacing work. This comes to about $3 million more than was allocated in the current budget, meaning it is equal roughly to a 7 percent increase.

Of that $42.2 million, about $33.7 million would come from state and federal aid.

Kovac said many of the complaints elected officials hear from the public are about street conditions.

“That’s been something we’ve been putting more money into,” he said.

City officials are also asking for about $2.5 million for underground conduit and manhole work. This is a significant increase from previous years; in 2016, for example, the department sought only $736,000 for the same purpose.

Ghassan Korban, public works commissioner, said department officials do not want to tear up a perfectly good road merely to make repairs to the conduits lying directly below. For that reason, they try to time underground work so that it will coincide with surface-level improvements.

Korban said those scheduling preferences mean that officials may get one chance every 40 years or so to work on underground conduits. One of those opportunities appears to be coming next year, he said

“It is an added cost, but we think it is an important cost,” Korban said at the committee meeting.

Improvements to the conduit system also open the door to expansion of the local fiber-optic network, committee members said.

Other notable capital improvement requests call for spending about $7.7 million to remodel a floor of the Milwaukee Police Department administration building and $1.6 million on a branch of the Milwaukee Public Library. Elsewhere, library officials are requesting about $3.3 million for improvements to the Central Library.

City officials will likely have more in-depth budget conversations in the coming months. This year’s budget, for example, required any requests be submitted by mid-May of 2015. The mayor’s office then drafted an executive budget plan between July and September, submitting its final draft to the Common Council in September. Council members then approved the budget in November.


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