After a month-long delay in the budget-writing process, legislators have finally arrived at a consensus position on funding transportation. The results are the approval of no new revenues to fund transportation and deep reductions in funding for highways, with the potential to result in significant delays for major projects around the state.
The state budget being considered this week by the full Legislature will trim $450 million in bonding for roads from the original $1.3 billion in borrowing the Governor proposed in February. In addition to that reduction, the Joint Finance Committee will have the ability to issue a further $350 million in bonding for highway work if the committee approves proposals from the state DOT to allocate those funds. Aside from those “contingent highway bonds,” the budget only provides a net $500 million in new bonding for a variety of infrastructure needs – $300 million of which is directed to the Zoo Interchange.
Without approval of the contingent bonds, the state highway program will see significant reductions. The northern leg of the Zoo Interchange – scheduled for 2016 – was delayed by reducing $200 million in funding. The state Major Highway Program was reduced by $350 million and will result in at least two-year delays for current projects including work on Highway 15 bypassing Hortonville, Highway 23 from Fond du Lac to Plymouth, I-90 from Madison to Beloit, Highway 151/Verona Road interchange with the Madison beltline, and Highway 441 on the south side of the Fox Cities. Only by the Joint Finance Committee issuing the additional contingent bonds will any of these projects stay on time. The Highway Rehabilitation program for smaller state highways was trimmed by $100 million. Lastly, funding to complete work on the Stillwater and Hoan bridges was retained.
Among the other transportation changes of note to the business community was the inclusion of $35 million in funding for the freight rail projects, $13 million for harbor improvements, and a 4% increase to transit spending authorized in the previous budget. The budget also includes an audit of the state’s highway program and a study for improving the solvency of the Transportation Fund, both due in January 2017.