by ZACH KAYSER
Because the Winona City Council canceled the Broadway road diet, the city now has to forfeit more than a third of its road resurfacing funding for 2021.
The city of Winona spent roughly $300,000 on consulting and planning fees for the Broadway road diet project. Since the City Council voted Feb. 1 to stop the project, and thus cut off the outside grant funding that would have paid for that $300,000, the city engineering department will now have to eat those costs.
During a meeting on Tuesday, the City Council voted to withdraw the money from the mill and overlay fund in the 2021 budget, which otherwise would have gone to redo cracked and potholed streets throughout the city. City staff estimated that taking out the money means about 15 blocks of the city will go without being resurfaced. After the $300,000 is removed, about $585,100 would remain in the mill and overlay budget.
City Council member Pam Eyden, a supporter of the Broadway project, said she was “very disappointed” the city now needed to pay the money itself. She pointed out the 15 fewer blocks that would be resurfaced and asked Public Works Director Brian DeFrang which streets would be redone this year. “I would like to know which streets are going to get that favorable treatment, and which are not,” Eyden said.
DeFrang said he didn’t know at that moment, but he would have a better understanding in about a month.
City Council member George Borzyskowski questioned why $300,000 had been spent on the project in the first place. DeFrang explained that the plans for the project needed to be more or less fully formed before the city could apply for grant funding. A series of hotly contested votes from 2017 through 2020 kept the project going and directed city staff to keep working and spending money to change Broadway from four lanes to three in order to improve pedestrian safety. The city staff submitted grant applications to secure funding for the project, to the point where zero local tax dollars were to be spent on it.
The council ultimately rejected that funding, which was contingent on the city going through with the road diet. About $1.9 million in grant money for repairing Broadway was turned away as a result of the city council’s decision. However, $1.4 million in Municipal State Aid Street (MSAS) funding was saved by canceling the Broadway renovation, which theoretically could go to other street projects.
The vote Tuesday was 6-1 in favor of withdrawing the $300,000 from the road repair budget. Council member Eileen Moeller was the only “no” vote.
Contacted by the Post after the meeting, Moeller said she was frustrated by the situation. The people who live and work on the 15 blocks going unrepaired should ask the Broadway opponents on the council why their streets weren’t being fixed, she said. “We’re basically robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Moeller said. “Now we have even less money to do road maintenance, which I don’t think is fiscally responsible, so I can’t support it.”
Council member Steve Young, who opposed the road diet, told the Post that in voting against the Broadway renovation he was representing the will of the people in his ward, who also opposed the project. “Clearly the majority of people in the First Ward who I represent, and Winona as a whole, oppose this project,” he said.
Although the city would need to pay the $300,000 in consulting fees, it would also gain back the $1.4 million in MSAS money, he said.