Southern De Pere bridge project in limbo after veto
By Ben Rodgers
DE PERE – Disappointed and confused are two of the words local officials used after funding for a southern De Pere bridge was vetoed from Gov. Tony Evers’ budget.
“My first reaction was disappointment,” said De Pere Mayor Mike Walsh. “I was very disappointed. We worked so very hard to get it into the budget and to have it line-vetoed out was very disappointing. There was a period of time when I was pretty down on it.”
The southern bridge was coupled with an expansion of Interstate 41 from De Pere to Appleton, which was not line-vetoed out when Evers signed the budget Wednesday, July 3.
A southern De Pere bridge has been discussed for the past 30 years.
Momentum for the project seemed to peak with a June 24 press conference in Lawrence that included local, county and state officials.
“We worked really hard in trying to get more and more people involved,” Walsh said. “We wanted them to get to the governor, to their legislators, and a lot of people did that and we still couldn’t get it in.”
Walsh invites elected officials in Madison who question the need for the project to visit the current Main Avenue bridge during rush hour.
“The bridge was built for 35,000 cars a day and we reached that a number of years ago,” Walsh said. “So we’re currently at the maximum that this bridge was built to handle and this bridge was built with the idea that there would be a southern bridge to take some of the traffic off of it.”
The George Street bridge was replaced in 2007 with the Main Avenue bridge and it opened up downtown De Pere more than before, but the area remains infamous.
“It’s one of those things regionally I think people take advantage of,” said State Sen. Andre Jacque, of the 1st District and a De Pere resident for the past 6 1/2 years. “It’s the most notorious traffic snarl right now in the county, where things back up by the roundabout during peak hours.”
Jacque, one of the lawmakers who attended the press conference, said he was confused when Evers line-vetoed the bridge project, because he previously indicated support.
“It’s very puzzling as to why things have played out the way they have at this point,” Jacque said. “I’m going to take the secretary designee (Craig Thompson) at his word that they intend to have this go forward and go forward at that location within the near future where we’re going to see that progress. I’m going to do everything I can to help them correct their mistake. No doubt it was a mistake for them to do an about-face and take away the certainty and investment of the need.”
Though the lane expansion from four to six on Interstate 41 from De Pere to Appleton was included, Jacque said there is still funding for environmental studies in the budget, which could be used for either project.
“I have to question what percentage of that funding is going to go for the interchange for the southern bridge or the southern bridge route opposed to the 41 lane expansion itself.”
Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach was also at the press conference, but he did not return calls to be interviewed for this story before deadline.
In a Facebook post from July 3, where he shared a story published in The Press Times, Streckenbach said, “This unfortunate decision evokes uncertainty about the future of this important regional project. However, in talking with Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson today, we are hopeful this project will remain a priority for his agency and will not invalidate 30-plus years of hard work.”