Guest Column from Rep. Jim Steineke
Evers: Swings and Misses on Kaukauna Bridge Project
Word Count: 469
A month ago, I quietly celebrated a win for my district, my constituents, my community. A month ago, the Joint Finance Committee approved funding to make the Kaukauna Veterans Memorial lift bridge operational – something I’d been working with local leaders, legislative colleagues, and members of the Fox River Navigational System Authority on for months.
The project was an obvious slam-dunk for not just Kaukauna residents, but for northeast Wisconsinites, travelers, and water-goers as a whole. Motorboats, canoes, kayaks, and commercial boats alike utilize the lock system, which links Lake Winnebago to the Fox River Valley, through the Bay of Green Bay to the ports of the Great Lakes! One of the last pieces of the puzzle to open up navigation lies in getting the Veterans Memorial lift bridge operational.
Beyond the benefit to outdoorsmen, tourists, and businesses, there’s also the looming fact that the U.S. Coast Guard ordered the bridge be made operational by May of 2021. With an estimated cost of $2.2 million, the mandate is no small undertaking for a city of just over 15,000 people.
As with many other bridges around the state, the funding we fought for in the budget was qualified under an existing local bridge program that divides funds on an 80/20 split. Instead of the average household in Kaukauna being on the hook for an additional $267 to fix a bridge they have no authority over, the state would provide matching funds for the project, as is often the standard for local bridge projects. It was an obvious, common sense solution to a very real problem for Kaukauna residents.
Imagine my surprise when Governor Evers issued his veto statement, removing the bridge funding from the final budget. What could have – should have – been an easy bipartisan win for northeast Wisconsin was instead a stick in the eye for every single taxpayer that is now on the hook to pay for this bridge repair.
When news of the veto came down, I immediately started making calls. Because regardless of which side of the aisle we sit on, our first and foremost priority is to serve our constituents. And given that this lift bridge isn’t a huge benefit to anyone in Kaukauna, as it’s solely used for boat traffic in a state-managed transportation network, it does not serve my constituents to sit idly by while Governor Evers and his team undo what should have been a done deal for the community.
This week, I will be sitting down once again with local officials and members of the administration to find a new path forward for the Veterans Memorial Bridge. But instead of the already-paved, straight, and smooth route we set forth in the budget, Governor Evers has forced us to find a windy, potentially bumpy road to do what is right for Kaukauna residents.