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Donges Bay Road project funding in question

Village develops Plan B after SEWRPC denies federal money

Dec. 9, 2013

Germantown — As funding for the Donges Bay Road project in Germantown comes into question, village officials say the road work will still go on as planned.

On Oct. 4, Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's Advisory Committee on Transportation System Planning and Programming for the Milwaukee Urbanized Area denied funding for Germantown's Donges Bay Road project. The village plans to fix the heavily deteriorating roadway from Division Road to Fond du Lac Avenue in 2015.

The village was awarded funding to design the project with the belief that they would receive Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration Surface Transportation Program funds for 80 percent of the project's estimated $4 million construction price tag, Director of Public Works Dan Ludwig said.

The Advisory Committee is responsible for the administration of STP funds. The committee in April approved new procedures to evaluate, prioritize and ultimately select what projects will receive that money. The new criteria left the Donges Bay Road project out of the 2015 to 2018 project cycle, which prompted the village to issue a resolution to SEWRPC, local representatives such as state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and state Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation citing its objection to the decision.

Germantown officials say the Advisory Committee's action was unjust and the new criteria, as well as committee members, strongly favor Milwaukee projects.

SEWRPC Executive Director Ken Yunker said the funds are held in a competitive category where $180 million worth of candidate projects are hoping to receive funding out of a much smaller $80 million pool.

"More projects are denied instead of approved," he said.

Germantown was counting on an 80/20 split for the Donges Bay Road project since the village met the previously used selection criteria, Village Engineer Brionne Bischke said. In the past, municipalities were credited STP funds annually based on its proportion of total eligible existing and planned system facility lane-miles in the SEWRPC's 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. The "paper" allocations would be accumulated from year to year, with debits to occur from each account as projects are selected for implementation. The village's Donges Bay Road project would have resulted in the village utilizing 88 percent of its projected target STP accumulated fund balance.

"We were participating in every step of the process and we really thought we'd get the construction funding," Ludwig said.

The Federal Highway Administration required the Advisory Committee to change the way projects are selected, Yunker said. Now, projects are selected and prioritized based on a set of criteria such as the need for the project, pavement condition, traffic, length of the route, and importance of the route.

"The method in selecting projects was required to change and the focus on what are the most important projects looking area-wide in quantitative criteria, such as pavement condition and traffic volume," Yunker said.

Lack of representation

Milwaukee County projects scored higher than the Donges Bay Road project.

"The board chose Milwaukee county projects that weren't as far along, instead of ours," Village President Dean Wolter said. "We have zero representation on the board. It's an unfair choice."

Donges Bay fell right below the funding line. Should one project get deferred or delayed, Yunker said Germantown's project is next on the list.

Delayed projects in a funding cycle are more common than not. If a project is not delayed in the upcoming cycle, that would be the first time in more than 20 years, Yunker said.

Bischke said if Milwaukee drops one project, the city would exchange it for another and he is not counting on funds to become available to them in the 2015 to 2018 funding cycle.

"Milwaukee has stolen money out of our allocation," Bischke said. "That's what spurns people here. We've been good collectors of funds."

The Donges Bay Road project was one of two projects that was approved to receive funding for engineering costs and not construction costs. Yunker said the DOT has adopted a new rule that projects have to receive funding for all elements at the same time so construction and engineering are not mutually exclusive.

"They are also searching for a way to try and find funding for these two projects where engineering was approved, but construction was not," he said.

Ludwig said they are not expecting any results of the village's resolution to come through for a few months. In the meantime the village is working with local representatives on the issue and developing a Plan B for the project.

Road in bad shape

Wolter says the village cannot wait any longer to fix the deteriorating roadway, adding that it can barely wait until 2015 to be replaced.

Because of the road's condition, Ludwig said the village doesn't have time to wait for federal money to become available in the next funding cycle. Donges Bay Road is one of the most densely populated residential roadways within the village that feeds numerous subdivisions.

If the village does not use federal highway dollars, the the road design does not have to be constructed to federal highway standards. Rather, the village can use local standards, which offer greater flexibility. Though the village would bear increased costs to change the design, the actual construction costs would be less expensive than the ballpark estimate of $4 million needed to meet federal standards. Construction could also be split into two phases.

"We'd be modifying what had been prepared to meet DOT and federal highway standards and go to a lower, village standard, but in order to make that modifications it would take some corrective measures in the design," Ludwig said. "It all costs money."

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