$160 million grant for I-94 North-South leaves funding questions


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The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Wisconsin $160 million for the widening of I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line, but the grant falls short of the $246.2 million the state requested to support an accelerated timeline for the project.

Widening I-94 in Racine County quickly became a top priority for the state after Foxconn Technology Group decided last year to locate along the freeway corridor. Officials even updated plans to include the possibility of autonomous vehicle lanes at the company’s suggestion.

Construction work is already underway on I-94 north-south in Racine County.

Other portions of the I-94 project in Kenosha and Milwaukee counties were completed in previous years, but funding was diverted towards other projects before all segments were completed.

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Lawmakers included $252 million in bonding authority for the state Department of Transportation to support the freeway expansion as part of the Foxconn legislation, but required the project also receive federal support.

The state Department of Transportation applied last fall for an Infrastructure For Rebuilding America or INFRA grant, requesting $246.2 million in funding to cover a portion of the nearly $500 million in remaining costs.

In announcing the $160 million grant, Gov. Scott Walker’s office said the funding would allow all lanes of I-94 North-South to be open by Memorial Day 2020, with full completion by 2021. The timeline for all lanes to be open is 19 months ahead of what was laid out in the grant application, and work from Highway 142 to Highway G is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving of next year. Without federal funding, officials said it would take until 2032 to complete the project.

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A Walker spokeswoman directed questions about where the remaining $86.2 million in funding would come from, or if the shortfall will affect other projects around the state, to the DOT.

Becky Kikkert, director of the office of public affairs at the DOT, said in an email the department would use additional transportation revenue bond cash balances to fund the project without delaying any other road projects in the state.

“The balances exist because of a favorable market for our transportation revenue bonds, resulting in additional proceeds above face value on our bonds,” Kikkert said.

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The state also received $67.4 million in federal supplemental highway and redistribution funds, including $30 million for bridge projects.

“Our plan is to invest in more highway projects, nearly 50 more local bridge projects, and complete the I-94 North-South project years ahead of schedule with this funding,” Walker said in a statement. “This is great news for Wisconsin. Not only are we keeping projects on time, we’re actually going to be able to do more projects across the state and get them done faster.”

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison), who wrote a letter of support for the grant application, also issued a statement saying she was proud to work across party lines to secure the funding.

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