Gov. Tony Evers’ administration is embracing a scaled-back plan for the interchange of U.S. highways 12/18 and I-39/90 — a cost-cutting move his DOT secretary was highly critical of just a year ago.

Then with the Transportation Development Association, Craig Thompson said the plan raised safety concerns and it would “be a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars to build a brand-new bottleneck.”

But DOT spokeswoman Kristin McHugh said the plan meets traffic needs while focusing on safety and “maximizes taxpayer investment.”

The state is expanding I-39/90 to three lanes in each direction between Madison and the Illinois stateline, matching the interstate’s size north of the city. But while the southbound interstate would have three lanes through the intersection with U.S. 12/18 under the DOT’s plan, there would be two lanes on the northbound side. That side would expand back to three lanes after the interchange.

According to the DOT, only two lanes are needed on the northbound side because of the amount of traffic that exits the interstates onto 12/18. McHugh said it also meets projected traffic demands through 2040 and the design is “adaptable should a more comprehensive interchange modernization be required in the future.”

The latest Transportation Projects Commission report updating the status of major highway projects noted the Federal Highway Administration in May signed off on the scaled-back plan.

The DOT had once considered rebuilding not just the interchange, but surrounding roads at a cost of $550 million. But under former Gov. Scott Walker, the DOT scaled back the project to cut costs.

The alternative approved by the feds is expected to cost $81.7 million. If the state had gone with adding a third lane through the northbound side of the interchange, the cost would’ve jumped to $93.2 million.

Other highlights of the TPC report, released late last week, include:

*projected costs for highways 50 near Kenosha and 23 between Fond du Lac and Plymouth were up from the previous estimate. All other active project costs remained flat or decreased. Overall, the highways 50 and 23 costs are now expected to be $21.7 million higher than projected in February, largely due to factors such as higher costs for hazardous material abatement and an increase in bid prices reflecting the market in southeastern Wisconsin.

*collectively, costs for the other projects included in the report are down $15.1 million compared to February. That includes a $6.5 million drop in costs to expand I-94 in Racine County.

*the expansion of I-41 and I-43 were included in the report for the first time after they were enumerated in the state budget. The I-41 project includes reconstructing 23 miles of the interstates between Appleton and DePere, while I-43 includes redoing 14 miles in suburban Milwaukee.

Read the latest TPC report:

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