Major projects on the chopping block? Lawmakers challenged as they finalize transportation budget

MADISON -- Are major transportation projects on the chopping block? Lawmakers say nothing is off the table as they work to hammer out a new transportation budget.

The $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange construction project is underway, and it's scheduled to continue until 2018. It is the largest transportation project in the state, and Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) says its funding in the upcoming budget isn't guaranteed.

"They need to finish it. It would be wrong not to," Alexis Martinez, who lives near the Zoo Interchange said.

After months of noise, orange cones and detours, Martinez and others who live near the Zoo Interchange are nervous about the project's future.

"I feel if they're gonna start a project and have it be this much already, that they should finish it," Martinez said.

Governor Scott Walker says he intends to keep his campaign promise not to raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fees to pay for transportation projects in Wisconsin. Walker said Monday that despite his position, he still believes a deal can be reached with the Legislature's budget-writing committee this week on how to pay for highways and other roads projects.

The transportation budget is one of the last pending issues before the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee. Lawmakers have been unable to reach a deal with Walker.

Many Republicans don't want to borrow the $1.3 billion that Walker has called for to pay for the projects. They are also looking at ways to delay work that's either scheduled or ongoing, but they haven't been able to come up with a deal.

"I understand that the money may not be there, but then I think they shouldn't have started this in the first place," Matt Bahr, who lives near the Zoo Interchange project said.

Senator Darling calls the state's transportation budget the biggest challenge lawmakers face.

"The Zoo would be over $300 million. We have three options: delay projects, raise revenues or accept the governor`s budget," Darling said.

In the past, lawmakers have had so many issues with the transportation budget they have had to take it out of the state budget and pass it separately.

Darling says the Zoo Interchange project's future is uncertain.

"To this area that is really an important project because so much of our commerce goes in and out of the Zoo," Darling said.

"The Zoo Interchange project is already so far along it's hard to imagine that a stop would be put on the project," Rob Henken with the Public Policy Forum said.

Henken says typically, projects already in the pipeline are going to be finished.

"I think the big question mark is, are some of the projects that would have perhaps taken three or four years to complete, going to have to be stretched out over five, six or seven years?" Henken said.

As a result of this budget, we could see more modest designs for projects and delays to projects now on the drawing board.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials are not commenting right now.