Friday, April 22, 2022

Infrastructure funds to clear up a lot of road/bridge backlogs in Wisconsin, if WisGOPs don't mess it up

I had mentioned a few months ago that I wanted to see how much more money the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) was going to get from the BIF infrastructure bill that Congress passed in late 2021, and to see if the GOPs on the Joint Finance Committee would try to mess with those funds. Well, it took a while, but WisDOT finally knows how much they are going to get, and has sent the plan to JFC, who will vote on it next week.

So why has it taken so long for Wisconsinites to see this added highway money and WisDOT’s plans? Because there are two parts to states getting funds from US DOT and many other federal agencies. The first part is when Congress passes the law that allows the program, says how much money should go into it, and explains how the money is split up. That’s what happened with the passage of the BIF, after the Build Back Better package was removed from it. (you may remember that ordeal).

But then there is a second part involving the annual budget process, which finalizes how much money each program gets for the October 1-September 30 Federal Fiscal Year (FFY). You may recall there was a mucked-up budget process in Congress that meant that the full-year budget wasn’t finished until the Feds’ fiscal year was half-over. So the Legislative Fiscal Bureau points out that WisDOT didn’t even know how much they were getting in extra highway funds until earlier this month.
…..The second stage of the legislative process necessary for federal-aid highway funding is an appropriations act. Congress passed a series of Continuing Resolutions (CR) of FFY 2021 appropriations as they continued to work on an FFY 2022 appropriations act. On March 15, 2022 the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022 (Public Law 117-103) was signed into law providing funding for the full year. [WisDOT] was notified of partial 2022 federal-aid highway funding allocations by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on April 4, 2022. The notice of funding allocations are incomplete – funding notices have not been provided for two small formula programs and the General Fund Supplement – and the FHWA is unable to estimate when the additional allocations will become available. Given how late it is in the state and federal fiscal years, there is a need to move forward now in order to try and avoid lapsing of federal funds. The funding amounts for those programs mentioned above with no allocation are estimated based on currently available information.
Despite the long wait, WisDOT is going to get a major boost in federal dollars to help pay for projects and transportation services, which will move a whole lot of projects up in the pipeline. $283 million above the budgeted totals is going to be noticed, and WisDOT plans to use that money to pay for road work, bridge work, and other projects around the state.

There also is another $11.6 million that the state will get from the bill’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program, but that merely involves WisDOT sending a plan to USDOT by August 1, and then they can set aside that money at dates later than September 30, and WisDOT says that money won’t be sent out until later.

Right before WisDOT released their request for the infrastructure funds, State Sen and Joint Finance Co-Chair Howard Marklein said around the same time that he wanted more of this federal road funding to go to local (rural) communities.

Well Howie, you’ll be glad to know that rural communities will see quite a bit at this money. No thanks to any of your fellow Republicans in Wisconsin, who all voted against this infrastructure package. Funny how he doesn't mention that.

And if Sen. Marklein is so insistent on having this infrastructure money go out quickly, he'll get his chance next week to send it through, as his fellow JFC committee members are meeting to approve or modify WisDOT’s plan. For starters, that extra $123.6 million in state highway projects is going to move up a lot of projects around the state. Here's a list that WisDOT sent LFB.

Along with the $83 million boost in available dollars for local projects and the state's Surface Transportation Progrm (STP), which more than doubles the amount of FED funds available for those projects, there are more types of projects that can be paid for with the infrastructure package.
In past federal reauthorizations, STP funds could only be used for capital projects on roads classified as either "arterials" or "major collectors," in line with federal rules. These roads are more significant on the statewide or regional level, span longer distances, and have fewer access points, higher speeds, and more lanes. However, IIJA allows some federal funds to be used for roads classified as "minor collectors" and "local roads," which generally serve lower density areas, provide direct access to properties, and have lower speeds and few signalized intersections. This change in federal rules will increase the number of local projects that are now eligible for STP funds.
But an even larger impact is going to come with bridge projects, which will have well over double the money vs what was budgeted a year ago.

Lastly, there is $14.8 million added to already-existing CMAQ air quality and Transportation Alternatives (TAP) programs, which likely will lead to more funding of bicycle-pedestrian projects, as well as additional funds for transit and clean-fuel vehicles. The Transportation Alternatives funding is projected to get boosted by nearly 150%, and has to be set at that increased level because TAP has to be a percentage of all of the federal highway funding.

So let's see if JFC allows the infrastructure to be fixed in this state, or if they meddle and hold up these funds in an attempt to keep these investments from happening, They also could change how much of these federal funds go into the different categories, and/or could reduce state funding for some projects, in theory. In a worst case scenario, JFC could sit on the entire plan and endanger all of these projects, like JFC member Duey Stroebel recently did with a proposed DNR purchase of lakefront land in Ozaukee County.

I don't think the WisGOPs would be so stupid to hold up all of the funding. But keep your eye on this, as WisGOPs often can't help but try some kind of self-centered BS to modify the Evers' Administrations plans. Dems better be out there speaking up about this pre-emptively, to bring attention to this Tuesday JFC meeting discussing this infrastructure funding, and once it is passed, to make sure that two-stepping GOPs like Howard Marklein don’t try to grab credit for something Republicans would never have delivered.

1 comment:

  1. In good news, the GOP basically went along with the Evers' Administration's plans, with the exception of some petty BS about insisting that the $4.3 million in CMAQ funds only be used for road improvements and traffic flow, and prevents it from being used for bike/hike trails or buses or other air quality initiatives.

    Meh, I'll take it. And now get the projects bid up and going.