Orange barrels on deck: Evers announces road project grants

    Toy construction machine and workers
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    Just in time for spring, Gov. Tony Evers unveiled $75 million worth of new highway, road and street repair projects on Wednesday, promising greater safety, better community connections and economic growth. 

    A total of 152 local governments — 84 towns, 34 cities and villages and 34 counties — are sharing in the funding, provided through the Multimodal Local Supplement (MLS) grant program. Winning projects were chosen from about 1,600 applications. The money was part of $465 million in funding for road projects in the 2019-2021 state budget Evers signed last summer.

    The process that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) used to award the MLS funds drew cheers from the Wisconsin Counties Association’s executive director, Mark O’Connell. 

    “WisDOT established clear, concise criteria, brought locals into the process and cut red tape,” O’Connell said in a statement. “As a result, this money gets to our communities at lightning speed. We should look to replicate this process in the future. This is how government should work.”

    But as popular as roads are, some weren’t happy. 

    “A missed opportunity,” proclaimed the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WisPIRG). While praising “important investments in repairing and maintaining Wisconsin’s local roads and bridges,” WisPIRG complained that only $1 million of the MLS money went to public transportation: a Milwaukee County Transit System grant. 

    The organization welcomed $15.2 million in biking and pedestrian improvements but called that amount of money insufficient. “Investment in public transportation, walking and biking infrastructure continues to fall short,” WisPIRG director Peter Skopec said in a statement. 

    Not short enough for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), however.

    Vos criticized Evers for having cut $15 million out of Assembly Republicans’ original $90 million MLS appropriation last summer. 

    Of the remaining sum, “It’s disappointing that 100% of the money isn’t going to local roads as intended,” Vos said in a press release. “Instead, millions of dollars are being diverted to bike paths and buses, with fewer dollars available to help crumbling roads.”

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.