Interstate 94 construction (copy) (copy)

I-94 runs from the Illinois state line to General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee.


Construction on Interstate 94 in Racine County could resume under a bill outlining the incentives Wisconsin will offer to Foxconn as the electronics manufacturing company seeks to build a massive facility in the southeastern corner of the state.

The bill, released Friday by Gov. Scott Walker, would authorize about $252 million in borrowing, contingent on receiving matching federal funds, for the I-94 north-south project, which runs from the Illinois state line to General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. 

Some state lawmakers are hopeful the momentum behind the Foxconn deal will bring a renewed sense of energy to stalled budget negotiations. Disagreements within the Legislature's Republican majority over transportation funding have brought the spending plan one month past its due date. 

"I think there’s several things working together to push us closer to a deal. That’s one of them," said Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, of the inclusion of I-94 funding. "Obviously with a development like this, they're going to need infrastructure, so that presents a challenge, but I think we can try to come together to try to keep that project on track."

Steineke said he'd like for the Assembly to take up both the Foxconn bill and the state budget within the same week, but said if one is resolved first, it will likely be the Foxconn legislation. 

Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, praised the inclusion of I-94 funds in the Foxconn package. Wanggaard told the Racine Journal Times in February he would have a "real challenge" voting for the state budget if the interstate project was left unaddressed. 

"Even more than before, it is absolutely critical to restart this road project to ensure the success of not just Foxconn, but the many other economic development opportunities that are planning to come our area," Wanggaard said in a statement. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I will do everything I can to ensure the Foxconn development comes to fruition."

Walker called a special session starting on Tuesday to pass the Foxconn bill. Under the terms of the state's agreement with the Taiwanese company, the state must approve the deal by Sept. 30.

Lawmakers have been divided for months over which highway projects to prioritize, including disagreements over whether I-94 east-west or north-south should take precedence. 

At the same time, Assembly and Senate GOP lawmakers have struggled to reach a compromise on roads funding. Assembly Republicans argue the budget should include no additional borrowing for roads without an increase in revenue, while Senate Republicans argue bonding is a more responsible solution. 

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the ongoing dispute complicates the Foxconn deal. Barca has been involved in discussions with the company, which is expected to build its facility in Racine or Kenosha County.

"I’m disappointed that Gov. Walker and the Republicans have not been able to come to agreement on a budget that includes a long-term solution. There is no guarantee that the federal matching money will be available for Wisconsin," Barca said of the I-94 project. "This is a vital project with or without Foxconn, which is why we need a long-term, sustainable transportation solution."

As Madison as it gets: Get Cap Times' highlights sent daily to your inbox

Barca said there is a "great deal of potential for Wisconsin to benefit" from the deal, but he still has questions about the return on investment for taxpayers and protections for workers. 

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said she is also looking for answers to questions about taxpayer and worker protections, and also has concerns about the environmental impact of such a project.

Shilling remains "skeptical of any corporate welfare package that isn’t a good deal for local families, workers and communities," said spokesman Tony Palese.

Spokeswomen for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, did not respond to requests for comment on the I-94 provision in the Foxconn bill.

Republican lawmakers in both chambers were scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the bill.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.