Involvement in Local Highway Projects – How to Get Started

Where to Start: Getting Information

The first person you should contact is your local official (your alderman/woman, town board chair, county supervisor). If you don’t know who your local elected officials are, go to your county’s web-site. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and many local government units have websites with local project information on them as well.

What to Ask

Here are some of the pieces of information you will need to know:

  1. What kind of road is involved (local, county, state, federal)?

  2. At what point in the approval process are you getting involved?

  3. Have there been any public meetings to date?

  4. Have other members of the community called to express their concern?

  5. Have any alternatives been discussed?

  6. Has anyone sought input from the neighborhood communities that will be disrupted by the road construction?

  7. Where is the funding coming from?

Where  to Start: Building a Local Citizens Group

1000 Friends is working with local activists around the state to develop informational materials and a toolkit for starting a local citizens group.  Our goal is to serve as a hib for information to help you be effective in making your voice heard in local transportation decision making.  Below you will find samples of materials used by citizen activists working to ensure DOT work does not unnecessarily destroy neighborhoods, farmland, and natural areas and does not waste taxpayer dollars.  Look for more information on how to organize a group and get started, as well as templates for creating your own materials soon.

Special Case: Major Highway Projects

If you are challenging a Major Highway Project, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is the lead agency, but you may also need to contact the following agencies depending on the size and the location of the project:

  • Wisconsin Regional Planning Organizations, WisDOT District Offices, Federal Agencies, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Offices

The Definition of a Major Highway Project

Major Highway Development projects are the most complex, costly and controversial. They take years to complete from the time planning begins to the start of construction. Under Wisconsin law, a Major Highway project costs more than $5 million, and involves either of the following:

  1. Constructing a new highway 2.5 miles or more in length; or

  2. Reconstructing or reconditioning an existing highway by any of the following:

    • Relocating 2.5 miles or more of an existing highway.

    • Adding one or more lanes, 5 miles or more in length, to the existing highway; or

    • Improving to freeway standards 10 miles or more of existing divided highway having two or more lanes in either direction.

The Approval Process

  1. Every two years (in an even year) WisDOT updates its transportation plan in spring and then in summer recommends candidate projects to the Transportation Projects Commission (TPC).

  2. All projects that go before the TPC have already undergone a draft environmental impact statement or environmental assessment. The draft EIS must be made available for public comment and WisDOT must respond in writing to all comments it receives from the public. The completion of the draft EIS ensures that only projects likely to be future Major Project candidates are considered for enumeration.

  3. The TPC’s role is to evaluate and recommend projects to the Governor and Legislature for construction authorization. The TPC consists of 15 members: the Governor, three citizen members appointed by the Governor, five senators and five representatives appointed by the legislature, and the Department of Transportation Secretary as a non-voting member.

  4. Hearings are held in the Fall by the TPC to receive public comment on the candidate projects. This is a time for the public to give their opinions or express opposition to a project.

  5. In late Fall, the TPC then sends a list of their recommendations of Major Highway Projects and appropriate funding levels to the Governor and the legislature.

  6. The Governor incorporates the recommendations into the budget and the budget is passed by the legislature in July of the next year.