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National Controversy Over Infrastructure Money Takes Root In Southeast Wisconsin Too

Chuck Quirmbach
I-94, near American Family Field.

The national controversy over a federal infrastructure plan is also playing out in southeastern Wisconsin.

President Joe Biden is proposing to spend $2.3 trillion over eight years, not just on improving the nation's roads, bridges and water pipes, but also on housing, aid for manufacturing and to help home health care workers.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is a former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a strong Biden supporter. Barrett said one of his top plans for Milwaukee's share of the federal funds would be to update what he calls an "aging" system of streetlights that he called a safety concern.

"I've actually been surprised because as I've talked to aldermen and others, I thought, 'Well, this isn't going to be sexy enough.' But there is a strong desire to deal with that portion of the infrastructure," Barrett said Wednesday during a WisPolitics forum.

Barrett said replacing more lead drinking water pipes, improving local streets, broadband and the port of Milwaukee would be other goals.

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Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow speaks during Wednesday's online forum organized by WisPolitics.

One county west in more conservative Waukesha, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow is siding with a much smaller Senate Republican infrastructure spending plan — one recently calculated at $570 billion. Farrow, a former GOP state lawmaker, said he doesn't want the tax hikes that would fund the president's proposal.

Farrow said if Waukesha County does receive more federal money, improving roads to help businesses would be a key goal. "So that trucks, transportation, employees, personnel can move freely. I think that's a major area, as well as broadband. When you look at new infrastructure, broadband would be important," he said.

Farrow is also co-chair of the M7 — a seven-county regional economic development partnership. He agreed with some construction unions and others who are trying to revive a major rebuild of Interstate 94 east-west between 16th and 70th Streets. The state transportation department recently announced it needed more time to study what to do in that corridor.

Some local groups, like Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied For Hope, or MICAH, oppose an expansion of I-94 in that area.

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