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De Pere to pay for study to move southern bridge project forward

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – Brown County asked for $377,000 from the City of De Pere to cover a share of the cost to hire a team of consultants to complete a study to get the southern bridge corridor project underway.

It’s a sudden thing, and already the city and county are on a tight deadline.

“We have an opportunity we’ve never had before: an offer from the Department of Transportation secretary for the Wisconsin DOT to construct an interchange at I-41, contingent upon our getting the Tier I EIS (environmental impact study) document done by October of 2020,” Cole Runge, principal planner for the Brown County Planning Commission, told the De Pere Common Council Tuesday, Oct. 15.

It marks a new milestone in the project’s long, drawn-out prequel.

“One of the things we’d been dealing with, quite frankly, is a lack of prioritization and engagement on the part of the state and Federal Highway Administration,” Runge said. “The state has a lot going on. This is considered to be a local project, and that’s put our project off for a very long time.”

In 2012, the DOT and Federal Highway Administration told the county and De Pere to suspend the environmental impact study being done at the time, and to do a traffic analysis first.

Since then, the two have been in a cycle of reviewing and re-reviewing “like being in a hamster wheel,” said Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach, who also spoke before the Common Council.

When he traveled to Washington, D.C., in August to talk with the federal government, Streckenbach said he was told the southern bridge project was low on the priority list and to get the state’s support first.

Meeting with then Wisconsin DOT Secretary David Ross helped get the state’s attention.

Recently, Wisconsin DOT told Brown County the state would design and construct a $35 million Interstate 41 interchange for the southern bridge corridor if the county gets the EIS done before WisDOT finishes environmental and design work for the expansion of I-41 between De Pere and the Fox Valley area.

Streckenbach credited Mayor Mike Walsh’s positive relationship with the state DOT, as well as getting 80 company CEOs from the area to endorse the project, demonstrating De Pere’s status as an economic force.

The recently completed traffic analysis showed the most viable spot for the southern bridge would be at Rockland and Red Maple/Southbridge roads, with the new Interstate 41 interchange at Southbridge Road.

“But we’ve been told it’s too soon to say that’s definitively where it’s going to go,” Runge said.

The other communities asked to contribute are the Town of Ledgeview ($96,360) and the Town of Lawrence ($76,285). With De Pere’s portion, the three municipalities’ contributions equal 50 percent of the sum needed for the consultants to do the study. Brown County will kick in the rest.

The dollar amount is based on footage of each municipality fronting the route.

Because De Pere fronts 67 percent of the preferred corridor location, it’s being asked to fund 67 percent of the total requested from the municipalities, or $377,355.

The council voted to approve the funding, which will come from unassigned reserves, and then be repaid through tax increment district funds in the future.

Runge said the consultants will be asked to help with updating the information collected prior to 2012, when the Federal Highway Administration told them to suspend the EIS in lieu of the traffic analysis; addressing state and federal regulations enacted since 2012; identifying the exact location of the corridor; and completing EIS documentation and getting the record of decision signed.

“We have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it,” he said.

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