The state is getting $160 million in federal funds — though $86 million less than it requested — to expand U.S. Interstate 94 south of Milwaukee to aid plans for electronics maker Foxconn to locate in Wisconsin.
That raises questions about how the rest of the roadwork will be paid for, and whether money could be siphoned away from other projects to do so.
“We are interested in where the other $80-plus million is going to come from — and what it otherwise could have been used for,” said Craig Thompson, director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, which advocates for funding for roads, bridges and transit.
The I-94 north-south project is close to where Foxconn is building a sprawling manufacturing and research campus near Racine.
It includes widening and rebuilding stretches of the interstate; the remaining work on the project is expected to cost about $500 million.
The state had hoped to receive the full amount it sought to finance about half of the interstate project. Last fall, Gov. Scott Walker and state lawmakers authorized as much as $252 million in state borrowing to match the anticipated federal money.
Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Walker, said other projects won’t be sidetracked because the state got less than it hoped from the federal grant. Evenson wrote that the state plans to re-allocate existing transportation cash “that will allow funds to be available for the (project) while not delaying any other road projects in the state.”
Walker, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said the gap will be partly covered by other funding sources identified by the Department of Transportation.
Walker said the $160 million coming from the federal government “certainly is a boost for us” and that the work on I-94 will still be completed on the timetable set out to accommodate the $10 billion Foxconn project in Racine County.
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“We’ll still be able to keep the I-94 project where we want it,” Walker said. “All lanes will be open in both directions by 2020. The project itself will be completely completed by 2021.”
Last month Walker announced the department had identified $25 million in savings that would be used to speed up road and bridge projects around the state. On Wednesday he said total additional federal funds would be $227 million, “which we’ll use primarily for I-94.” He said a portion of the rest will accelerate 49 local bridge projects across the state.
Democratic critics of the Foxconn project have assailed the Walker administration for, in their view, shifting too many state resources to back the project at the expense of other priorities.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said “only Gov. Walker could tout an $86 million shortfall as a victory.”
“Walker’s DOT is so dishonest with transportation funding it’s hard to tell what shell game they’re playing at any given time,” Hintz said.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, whose district includes the Foxconn site, issued a statement thanking Walker and President Donald Trump for the grant.
“The economic growth in this region is about to explode and we must have a safe and reliable roadway,” Vos said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.