BROWN COUNTY (WLUK) -- A push to build a new bridge across the Fox River in Brown County is another step closer. Analysts say the bridge would ease traffic congestion and boost economic development.
But conflict among legislators has kept the project from moving forward, until now.
Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation Secretary Dave Ross met with community leaders in Brown County to hear their roadway concerns. A key topic, the southern bridge, a proposal on the table for the past 22 years.
"You’re very close to finishing all the hoops," said Dave Ross.
Ross, on the job just 15 months, has made it his business to streamline road construction projects, eliminating timely and costly layers of study and review.
"So what my concern was that we shrink that process and get to a decision so they don’t drag this out any further," Ross said.
A big part of the southern bridge delay has been not all local legislators were working off the same plan.
"One of the things I was concerned about the Southern Bridge is when the folks came to us and rearguing their issue about the bridge," Ross said.
State Sen. Frank Lasee, who represented the area for years, was the lone holdout to the plan developed by Brown County planners. That plan would have the bridge cross the Fox River between Red Maple on the west side and Rockland Road on the east side.
Lasee suggested a less expensive plan further to the south, that county officials say wouldn’t alleviate traffic through De Pere.
"Building a bridge further south really doesn't solve that problem," said Troy Streckenbach, Brown County executive.
But Lasee wouldn’t budge.
"I think if they continue to pursue the option, I'll be willing to bet that 10 or 20 years from now, we'll still be talking about it," said State Sen. Frank Lasee.
But Lasee left his elected position for an appointed one by the governor in January. That has Assemblyman Andre Jacque, who also represents De Pere and running to fill Lasee’s vacated senate seat, stepping up his fight for the Southern Bridge.
"I think there’s been a lot of frustration when we have had kind of a roadblock and the legislature prior to getting this enumerated, I think we’re much closer now and that’s something I want to take a leading role and championing," said State Rep. Andre Jacque.
He says congressional approval for an added interchange is nearly complete. The only roadblock now is funding, according to DOT Secretary Ross.
"We can get things pretty quickly on the shelf and ready for construction when we’re ready to do it and know we have the funding for it," Ross.
Funding will be up to the legislature. The project is estimated now at $150 million. The DOT’s annual budget is $3.5 billion.
The Greater Green Bay Chamber points out the investment into the Southern Bridge will generate business growth, reduce traffic congestion, improve roadway safety and ultimately boost the state’s economy.
"We know that bridge will bring for every $1 we spend on that corridor we’ll bring $4 back in an economy so we know it’s an economic benefit," said Jayme Selen with the chamber.
"You’re at the political phase of this project. You need to get the legislature now because it’s a major bridge," Ross said.
The job now is convincing legislators from other parts of the state that a Southern Bridge in Brown County will benefit Wisconsin as a whole.