If you drive along U.S. 41, you can't help but notice the fancy overpasses and the decorative rails, not to mention the landscaping. It's a gardener's dream. Take Lombardi Avenue: The gateway to Lambeau Field.
The median is packed with plants; much of it is packed into a small, 12-foot wide area near the U.S. 41 interchange that runs for about a quarter mile. It all comes with a price.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the state is in the process of planting 172 trees, 640 shrubs and 2,950 perennials. Total cost to taxpayers: $248,400.
"When you told me the numbers about how many trees are on Lombardi Avenue, I would never have believed that," said Richard Parins, president of the Brown County Taxpayers Association. He likes the way the landscaping looks. He doesn't like the look of the price.
"Personally, some of it might be a little over done when I hear the numbers and go oh my God, that many trees? That's a lot," Parins said.
One-hundred and seventy-two trees may sound like a lot to Parins but not to Brian Roper. He's heading up the project for the DOT.
"From the department perspective, we think it strikes that right balance. That it provides the enhancement that's better for the businesses, better for the community, better for Northeast Wisconsin's Main Street without going overboard," Roper said.
If you look at the entire U.S. 41 project in Brown County, the DOT is in the process of planting 4,100 trees and 30,400 shrubs and perennials. That bill is $3.1 million.
The money is part of the Community Sensitive Design program. That program may sound familiar. Last year, FOX 11 On Special Assignment uncovered how the program was used to pay for turtle shaped roundabouts near the airport.
The program is also being used to make the U.S. 41 project fit in with the local communities by adding things like decorative concrete, fencing and landscaping. The DOT works closely with local officials to develop the plans.
If you add up the cost of the various Community Sensitive Design elements along U.S. 41, it comes to $17.4 million in Brown County and $4 million in Winnebago County. In all, taxpayers are spending $21.4 million for Community Sensitive Designs on U.S. 41.
When asked how the department can justify the cost, Roper replied, "That's a great question. Part of what the department looks at, and we're certainly not immune to understanding as we move towards a leaner, more efficient government here in the state of Wisconsin, that there's also room for incorporating amenities like that. We establish a very small budget for incorporating it overall."
While $21.4 million may sound like a lot, it is only 1.4% of the entire U.S. 41 project. The whole project costs $1.5 billion.
Republican State Senator Frank Lasee the state is still spending too much on Community Sensitive Designs.
"I believe it's overboard," he said. "I think it's just a little bit too much. I agree with some of it but like so many things the government does, we don't know when enough is enough and I think we've got too much."
Roper says it's money well spent.
"I think just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, value is in the eye of the beholder," Roper said. "At the end of the day, the department believes that the $21 million is worth it."
The DOT says if any plants die during the first two years, the contractor will replace them at no cost. After that time, the local communities are responsible for the maintenance.
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