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Highway commission won’t advance new major projects after 5-year hiatus

A long-dormant commission charged with planning major road construction opted not to advance any projects after a five-year hiatus that ended Friday.

The Transportation Projects Commission met for the first time since 2014 on Friday. The commission is charged with advancing planned highway projects to the Legislature and directing the study of others as part of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Major Highway Development program, typically among some of the biggest in the state.

“This committee has been un-functioning for several years and we want to have an opportunity for a good group of people to think through transportation issues facing the state of Wisconsin,” Gov. Tony Evers said during the meeting.

Friday’s TPC meeting comes after lawmakers passed a two-year state budget that increases highway spending overall — chiefly by putting $320 million more into fixing existing roads. The budget, however, reduced spending on major highway projects. Thompson said officials aimed to invest in existing roads in the budget, and lacked a roster of major highway projects because of the TPC’s inaction.

The commission, however, didn’t act on projects that have been in the works since the group stopped meeting in 2014. WisDOT Secretary-Designee Craig Thompson said the commission wouldn’t advance three projects that are in the planning stage and wouldn’t recommend new ones for study, although it could in future meetings. The commission typically meets once a year.

“The department has determined that the needs that exist have other more appropriate remedies,” he said.

The group moved to remove three major highway reconstructions from the planning phase. They include: a 15-mile expansion of U.S. Highway 14 from Janesville to I-43, the reconstruction of U.S. Highway 12 at the Fort Atkinson bypass and a rebuild of Highway 8 from Wisconsin Highway 35 to U.S. Highway 53.

Joe Nestler, administrator of WisDOT’s Division of Transportation Investment Management, said these projects likely would have been removed from the planning phase had TPC met in recent years.

“We had already put that ice internally knowing that wasn’t going to result in a recommendation,” Nestler said. “We would have done this sooner had we met.”

WisDOT, however, will continue to consider a number of other projects, and may consider them at future TPC meetings. Projects that remain in the majors program include an expansion of U.S. Highway 12 between Elkhorn and Whitewater, an overhaul of Interstate 94 between Madison and the Wisconsin Dells and an expansion of I-94 East-West in Milwaukee.

The TPC typically advances projects from the planning stage to the state Legislature for enumeration. But the Legislature has the power to enumerate projects, too. Just one major highway project has moved forward without TPC approval, an expansion of Interstate 41 between Appleton and DePere that the Legislature approved in the latest biennial budget. WisDOT has yet to begin an environmental review of the project, agency officials said Friday.

The TPC’s absence isn’t its first. The 15-member group also failed to meeting during an eight-year period between 2002 and 2010.

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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