Gov. Walker open to gas tax increase for road construction if offset by cuts

Pat Goss

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee drivers will deal with orange barrels on the freeways for the next 10 years even if Congress passes a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, the head of the a Wisconsin transportation group said.

Pat Goss, executive director of the Transportation Builders Association, says the state hasn't put itself in a position to use the federal money for two Milwaukee County freeway projects eliminated in 2017. That year, Gov. Scott Walker delayed construction on Interstate 41 north of the Zoo Interchange and abandoned plans to rebuild Interstate 94 past Miller Park because of a funding shortfall.

Don't expect a $1.5 trillion federal plan to be Wisconsin's white knight, Goss says.

"Even if this (federal plan) does pass, are we going to have anything in the cupboard or is the cupboard bare?" Goss said of Walker's decision to shelve the I-41 and I-94 projects.

Under President Donald Trump's plan, states would shoulder a significant percentage of the construction costs. Of the $1.5 trillion, only $200 billion would come from the federal government, according to news reports about the proposal.

Nevertheless, after the president announced his plans during the State of the Union address last week, two Republican lawmakers and a coalition of Milwaukee businesses tried to get state officials to revive the I-94 project.

Steve Baas

"We're not going to go away because the issue, the need and the crisis isn't going away," said Steve Baas of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

Governor Scott Walker

Walker says he won't restart the project because of local infighting over it. He said local officials in Milwaukee had not been advocating for the roadwork.

The governor said during a campaign stop this weekend that he would be open to raising the gas tax to pay for road projects, but only if certain conditions are met.

"I want to be absolutely clear. I will never approve a gas tax (increase) unless there's an equal or greater reduction of taxes," Walker said.

Walker said he had not shifted his position in the past year. In 2017, he threatened to veto any gas tax increase in the state budget.

Goss said without more funding and a total rebuild, Milwaukee's aging freeways will have to be repaved more frequently.

"So we're going to have a decade of barrels constantly out there rather than doing the right thing. Get it rebuilt now. Get the barrels out there for two to three years, and then get out," Goss said.