Wisconsin roads panel reconvenes after 5-year hiatus

MADISON — A bipartisan commission tasked with making recommendations on what major Wisconsin road projects should move forward met for the first time in half a decade on Friday.

The Transportation Projects Commission did not recommend any new projects at its meeting, but Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson said it would consider new projects, and how to pay for them, at future meetings.

Gov. Tony Evers, who convened and presided over the meeting, proposed raising the gas tax by 8 cents a gallon in his state budget this year to pay for road improvements. Republicans who control the Legislature rejected that proposal, instead relying on a mixture of cash, borrowing and higher fees to pay for about $465 million road spending.

The commission is purely advisory. The Legislature has the power to authorize construction projects without a recommendation from the group.

The commission only weighs the largest, most expensive road projects that cost at least $41 million.

Thompson, a longtime advocate of the commission, said re-starting it will lead to more accountability and transparency for projects to eliminate surprises. The group on Friday mostly received updates about ongoing projects under environmental study and those already recommended for construction.

The commission was created in 1983 and has met irregularly in recent years. It was dormant between 2002 and 2010, before then-Gov. Scott Walker revived it for two meetings in 2011 before it went on another hiatus after a December 2014 meeting. Evers has said he hopes for the 15-member panel to meet at least once a year to keep lawmakers updated on projects.

Along with Evers and Thompson, other members are five members each from the Assembly and Senate and three citizens. The three citizen members are Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna, Waukesha County Public Works Director Allison Bussler and Barron County Highway Commissioner Mark Servi.