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Williams Bay loses state grant for Theatre Road project
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Williams Bay loses state grant for Theatre Road project

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WILLIAMS BAY — After landing a $300,000 transportation grant in March, Williams Bay is no longer eligible for the funds after a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision.

But the village may be in the running for another award to help with the same project.

On March 4, Williams Bay was one of 152 communities throughout the state to receive a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to fund road improvement projects.

The grant was intended to fund 42 percent of the costs to construct a pedestrian pathway along Theatre Road, or about $300,000 of the projected $700,000 project.

The village has been discussing and planning the pedestrian walkway and bike path since 2016, when construction of nearby Williams Bay Elementary School increased foot traffic on Theatre Road.

The proposed pathway along the west side of Theatre Road would extend from the Lakewood Trails neighborhood to soccer fields at Theatre Road Park.

The village became eligible for a state grant to help fund the project when Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a provision in the state budget that had excluded the use of Multimodal Local Supplement grant dollars for pedestrian walkways and bike trails.

The repeal created an opportunity for communities like Williams Bay to apply for state grants previously reserved strictly for road improvements.

But on July 10, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a challenge to the governor’s veto and struck down the budget change, rendering Williams Bay ineligible for the state grant.

Village Administrator Jim Weiss said the village has been contacted by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and was told the village can no longer receive the $300,000 grant.

“Due to that change, we no longer qualify,” Weiss said.

Mae Knowles, spokeswoman for the state transportation department, said Williams Bay is one of 12 communities that are no longer eligible for grants under the Supreme Court’s action.

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Knowles said her department is working with the affected communities to seek alternative funding options for their projects.

The department, she said, “has gone to great lengths to investigate all potential funding options.”

Weiss said while the village is no longer eligible for the state grant, it may still be in the running for a federally funded grant, potentially worth even more money.

The village has applied for a grant through the federal Transportation Alternatives Program, which could fund up to 80 percent of the Theatre Road construction costs.

“We are waiting to find out if we have qualified,” Weiss said of the new grant prospect.

While the grant could fund up to 80 percent of the project, it also is possible that less will be provided if more communities get in line to seek the federal assistance.

The federal grant recipients were originally scheduled to be announced at the end of July, but no announcement has been made.

As Williams Bay begins to draft its budget for the next fiscal year, delays in funding may push the Theatre Road project back yet another year.

Jen McMannamy, village trustee and chair of the streets and highways committee, said the village might be unable to budget for the project this year, without knowing if the federal grant is coming.

“It’s really at a standstill now,” she said.

McMannamy said the coronavirus pandemic has caused more people to seek out outdoor activities like walking and biking, making the path more necessary than ever.

McMannamy added that she is hopeful that Williams Bay will be eligible for a federal grant.

“The village engineer is confident that we met the eligibility requirements for all the things the grant needs,” she said.

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