BROWN COUNTY - We all know these are tight times but you may be surprised to learn how your government is spending money. FOX 11 has learned that taxpayers paid double what they normally would pay for the landscaping on two new roundabouts.
The roundabouts feature a turtle design and are located at Highway 172 at Austin Straubel International Airport and at Highway 172 and Highway 54. A third roundabout, in between the two, at the corner of Highway 172 and County Highway GE, does not have a turtle design. That's where the Hobart Village Hall is located.
The decorative turtles were put in place instead of the normal decorative plantings. The turtle, which is a symbol of the Oneida Nation, was designed by Oneida Nation artists who donated their time.
"The turtle itself is part of our creation story," said Sherrole Benton from the Oneida Nation Arts Program. She said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation asked the tribe to be involved in the design of the roundabouts.
"We were really excited about because it was an opportunity to bring our artists out and showcase the skills and culture and philosophy in this area," Benton said.
"You want to get the community's involvement because the roadways are not just infrastructure. They're part of the community," said project manager Dan Segerstrom from the DOT.
He says the turtles are part of the Community Sensitive Design program. That's a program which started 10 years ago where the state asks local communities to help design major projects, specifically, the way the projects look.
"It enhances the community," he said. "It makes the community feel it's part of the roadway and that they have a long term attachment to the roadway that it continues on community themes and continues on community unity."
The unique design cost taxpayers more than double what the regular landscaping would cost. Normally, the landscaping for a roundabout costs anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000. Construction of the decorative turtle roundabouts cost $55,000 each.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says $63,000 came from the state as part of the Community Sensitive Design program. The Oneida Nation says the rest of the funding, $47,000, came from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian Reservation Roads Program.
When asked about the cost of the decorative landscaping Segerstrom said, "We do have a policy that is currently in place for (Community Sensitive Design) funds. I think we have to look at that in the long term needs, not just short term. These roadways are going to be around in these communities for 20 to 75 years."
"I can't speak for the policy of the state," he added. "But I expect that's why we still have (Community Sensitive Design) funds out there."
The state has used the Community Sensitive Design program on many other projects in the area including $300,000 the Claude Allouez bridge in De Pere. The city of De Pere contributed an additional $53,500 to the design. The state also spent $280,000 in community sensitive design funds on the College Avenue bridge in Appleton and another $50,000 the Highway 41 bridge and approaches in Marinette.
But some lawmakers, like Republican State Senator Frank Lasee, say the state is spending too much money on the program. He says the money could be used for more important things.
"Like so many things the government does, it's overboard," Lasee said. "This means we have less money to spend on repairing our roads, fixing our bridges and building new roads."
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation spends one to three-percent of the total cost of a road project for community sensitive designs. There are many other projects underway. The Highway 41 project, for example, includes $7.6 million in community sensitive designs, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo released by Lasee's office. That includes everything from the type of brick being used for overpasses to artwork.
The state says under the Community Sensitive Design program the local community is responsible for the maintaining the area.
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