Tuesday, December 16, 2008

1% boost requested for major highway projects

Funding for major highway projects would increase $9.7 million over the next two years, under the State Department of Transportation's budget request.

The department also is seeking authority to circumvent the Transportation Projects Commission for many major highway projects.

Major highway funding would increase from $322.8 million this fiscal year to $326 million in 2010 and $329.3 million in 2011, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

A major highway project is defined in state law as a project that involves reconstructing or reconditioning an existing highway or constructing a new highway when total project cost exceeds $5 million and involves one or more of the following: 1) constructing a new highway 2.5 miles or more in length; 2) relocating 2.5 miles or more of an existing highway; 3) adding one or more lanes, 5 miles or more to an existing highway; or 4) improving 10 miles or more of an existing multi-lane divided highway to freeway standards.

The definition does not include freeway reconstruction or expansion in southeastern Wisconsin, which have their own statutory definition under state law.

WisDOT is seeking to change the definition of a major highway project. The new definition would, according to the LFB, (a) increase the minimum cost threshold for capacity expansion projects from $5,000,000 to $25,000,000; and (b) include any project that does not otherwise meet the capacity expansion thresholds in the definition of a major highway development project if the project has an estimated cost of at least $75,000,000.

Under the requested changes, the Department would not need to seek the approval of the Transportation Projects Commission prior to beginning an environmental impact statement (EIS) or environmental assessment (EA) on projects that do not meet the existing capacity expansion thresholds in the existing definition, but that may cost at least $75,000,000. For these projects, an EIS or EA would need to be completed to determine if the estimated cost exceeds $75,000,000.

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