DOT delays Zoo Interchange bids as state lawmakers put budget talks on back burner

MADISON -- The state Department of Transportation has scrapped new bids on the massive Zoo Interchange project as lawmakers put the long-delayed state budget on the back burner and focus on Foxconn incentives instead.

Zoo Interchange

A special session will start at 11 a.m. Tuesday, August 1st on a bill that would extend $3 billion in tax breaks to the Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn, which has pledged to build a multi-billion dollar plant in southeastern Wisconsin and hire thousands of workers. A public hearing could happen this week.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's budget is a month late. Without funding, the state DOT has withdrawn three proposals for Zoo Interchange work instead of putting them out to bid on August 8th. The bids are for relatively minor projects, including a drainage pond, concrete sidewalk,  sewer, and noise-reducing wall.

 

Michael Pyritz, a spokesman for the state DOT, said pulling back the bids would not delay the overall Zoo Interchange project. None of the bids were time-sensitive, he said.

"The reason they were chosen for withdrawal is we just didn't have the funding that we were going to commit to that," Pyritz said. "We're using the resources we have on ones that are crucial and time sensitive."

Pyritz declined to say the cost of each element that had been pulled back. Once a new state budget goes into effect, the agency will put the projects out for bid, he said.

The DOT has also delayed bids on roadwork on Interstate 94 between Rawson Avenue and Ryan Road. Administrators say they will put that project out for bids on September 12th.

Funding for road projects remains the sticking point in Wisconsin's budget, which was supposed to be in place when the new budget year started July 1st. The budget committee hasn't met in more than a month.

In contrast, top lawmakers hope to move quickly on the $3 billion incentives package for Foxconn. The bill includes $252 million in general fund borrowing for the long-delayed rebuild of I-94 south of Milwaukee, where Foxconn is considering land.

I-94 south of Milwaukee

Assembly Republicans like Speaker Robin Vos have rejected proposals from Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Republicans to borrow for other roadwork, but Vos supports the Foxconn bill.

"This is, of course, a different circumstance," Vos said in an interview. "I mean, we have a once-in-a-century employer that wants to come to southeastern Wisconsin."

The state would only spend the money if the federal government kicks in funding. Walker said in mid-July that he was confident it would happen.

"WisDOT is actively engaged with the federal government to advocate for Wisconsin and receive the highest match possible," Tom Evenson, a Walker spokesman, said in an email on Monday.

Vos has said he wants to hold final votes on the Foxconn bill in mid-August so the company can start construction later this year.

Despite the I-94 funding, the Foxconn package does little to solve the budget impasse or move the Zoo Interchange project forward.

State Sen. Alberta Darling, a co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee, has argued for completing the Zoo on schedule -- including a north leg, which continues up Interstate 41/U.S. 45 from North Avenue and faces delays in Walker's budget.

"She is very concerned with both of those projects," Bob Delaporte, Darling's chief of staff, wrote in a text message. "She is pushing to make sure the budget funds the (major projects in southeastern Wisconsin)."