This document summarizes certain changes that Governor Walker’s proposed budget bill (AB40) would make to how projects in Wisconsin’s State Trunk Highway system are defined and funded, developed, approved and written into state law. The most important changes Walker proposes are the following:
Walker’s proposed budget apparently would consolidate in the Governor’s office decision-making power related to major highway projects (MHPs) costing more than $75 million. Specifically, it appears that for these projects
- The Governor could circumvent review by the Transportation Projects Commission (TPC).
- The legislature would no longer vote to approve MHPs costing more than $75 million.
- The public would lose an opportunity to provide input in the design and approval process.
Major Highway Projects — Background
Current law defines an MHP as a project that
- Costs more than $5 million AND
- Involves capacity expansion, which is at least one of the following:
- New highway construction of at least 2.5 miles of highway
- Relocation of at least 2.5 miles of highway
- Adding one or more lanes of 5 miles or more to an existing highway
- Improving a highway of at least 10 miles to freeway standards
- Walker’s proposed budget would change this definition so that two sorts of highway projects would count as an MHP:
- Projects costing $75 million or more, regardless of whether they involve capacity expansion.
- Projects involving capacity expansion that cost $30 million or more. What constitutes “capacity expansion” would be unchanged from current law.
Major Highway Projects – Review and Approval
- Current law requires all MHPs to be approved by the Transportation Projects Commission and to be individually enumerated in statute before construction can begin.
- Under Walker’s proposed budget, potential MHPs in the first category above — those costing more than $75 million — would in effect be exempt from these requirements of TPC review and individual enumeration in statute. It appears that MHPs in the second category above — projects costing more than $30 million (up to and including $75 million) that involve capacity expansion — would still fall under the requirements of full TPC review and individual enumeration in statute.
- Walker’s Proposed Approval Process for MHP’s costing more than >$75 million
- Expanded Range of Engineering and Design Work that WISDOT can Undertake Prior to Seeking TPC Approval. Once WISDOT completes the necessary design, engineering, and enviromental studies, WISDOT submits the proposed MHP to the TPC for approval.
- Under current law, WISDOT may conduct only preliminary engineering and design work on an MHP prior to submitting the project to the TPC for approval. The Governor’s proposed budget would amend the law to permit WISDOT to conduct all engineering and design work prior to submission to the TPC.
- Actual TPC Review Not Required: Under the proposed budget, if the Governor (as Chair of the TPC) does not notify the DOT within 14 days that a TPC review has been scheduled for a project proposed by WISDOT, the project is automatically approved as an MHP.
- It appears that the Governor will have the power, under the statutes, to approve MHPs unilaterally, by deciding that some or all proposed MHPs do not require TPC review.
- Individual Enumeration Not Required: The proposed budget would amend Section 84.013 of the Wisconsin Statutes to automatically enumerate any MHP costing more than $75 million that has been approved (as above) by the TPC, regardless of whether the TPC has actually reviewed the project, thus allowing construction to begin.
- Under the amended enumeration section, the legislature would have no oversight over the decision to approve an MHP.
- Limit Ability of the Public to Provide Input on Proposed MHPs: The proposed review process would exempt MHPs costing more than $75 million from a requirement of systematic numerical evaluation by WISDOT,which includes an assessment of public support.
The graphic compares the current and proposed MHP development processes for MHPs costing more than $75 million. Again, note that this accelerated review process would not apply to MHP’s below $75 million (those in the second category above).
For a diagram of the old process compared to the new process, see the diagram below.