Stimulus funds jump start projects

Looking at the calendar, it would seem that summer is winding down, but on State Street between 17th and 27th streets, there are plenty of signs indicating it is still summer in Wisconsin. Big orange signs, to be exact.

The construction signs demarcate one of many street repair projects in Milwaukee slated for completion in the upcoming years. The unique thing about these repairs is they are funded by federal stimulus dollars.

The money is “an unprecedented opportunity for the city of Milwaukee,” Mayor Tom Barrett said in a statement.

The stimulus funding “has injected millions and, in some cases, billions of dollars into existing federal programs to jump start our economy and create and save jobs,” he said.

The state of Wisconsin received $529 million for state and local transportation projects, according to a report from Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works. Of that money, the state allocated $38.7 million to the Milwaukee urbanized area, which includes the majority of Waukesha County and parts of Washington and Ozaukee Counties. The city of Milwaukee plans to use $15.2 million on 10 projects throughout the city, including the one on West State Street, the report said.

The rest of Milwaukee County received $6 million, and $3.6 million will be used on a county project within Milwaukee’s city limits, meaning $18.8 million of the $38.7 million allocated to the urbanized area will be spent in the city proper, according to the report.

Deciding which projects to use the money for was challenging because of a tight time frame, said City Engineer Jeff Polenske. It normally will take two to four years to develop plans, but in this case, the decision had to be made within a few months, he said.

Because of this restriction, the decisions made were based primarily on road conditions and the city was careful not to choose projects in which real estate or environmental factors would be involved, Polenske said.

All told, the city proposed $70 million worth of projects to be completed with the stimulus money, he said.

“We had a good list of projects that needed to be done” and without the stimulus funds, it would have taken several years before work could start on them, Polenske said.

“Advancing this $25 million worth of projects allows us to advance other projects for the next six or seven years,” he said.
The money is used from development to construction, although the design for these projects was paid for by city dollars, with the major cost being construction, Polenske said. Any money left over would go to other upcoming projects, he said.

Work has already startedon three of the 10 projects . In addition to the work on State Street, the city has begun working on West Lisbon Avenue between North Sherman Boulevard and the Soo Line Railroad and on West Oklahoma Avenue between South 72nd and South 60th streets. These projects will be completed by next summer, Polenske said.

Work on the remaining seven repair projects will get underway in March 2010, Polenske said.