Wisconsin Department of Transportation secretary Mark Gottlieb sparred with lawmakers recently as he defended the agency’s budget request.
The sharpest exchange during Gottlieb’s more than three hours of testimony before the Assembly Transportation Committee came as Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) challenged the secretary on several design decisions made with road projects, as well as travel by agency employees. Sanfelippo questioned the agency’s decision to use stainless steel reinforcing bar for some ramps that are part of the new Zoo Interchange versus a coated rebar. He also questioned the agency’s current design standards for the stoplights used on road projects and employee travel costs.
Gottlieb defended agency design decisions, saying the stop light standard, for example, has proven significantly safer. The stainless steel rebar, he added, will extend the life of the ramps.
The hearing was the first on Gov. Scott Walker’s DOT budget request before the Transportation Committee. Lawmakers have been ramping up for a fight over whether to increase revenues in the next budget. Walker has vowed to veto any increase in the gas tax or registration fee without a corresponding tax cut.
Gottlieb opened the hearing by saying it would be decades before the state completed so-called “megaprojects” in southeastern Wisconsin, which have an estimated cost of $4.3 billion. WisDOT asked for $122 million in the upcoming budget for megaproject work. At that rate, he said, it would take 70 years to complete those projects.
Gottlieb also said completing I-94 east-west between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges is more of a priority than finishing I-94 north-south in Racine County. He defended the $31 million the agency included in the budget to do preliminary work on I-94 east-west.
“It’s a kernel of money there that gives us the ability to keep that project marching forward,” he said.
— Wispolitics.com is a media partner of BizTimes Milwaukee.