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Fixing 'decades of neglect' in Wisconsin's transportation system

How the state hopes more funding will help
State officials promote transportation budget
Posted at 10:24 PM, Mar 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 23:58:03-04

GREENVILLE (NBC26) — A recent report gave Wisconsin a D+ grade when it came to quality of roads, but some are hopeful the governor's roads budget will continue the path to fixing what officials call "decades of neglect" to the state's transportation system.

Gov. Tony Evers and Craig Thompson, Department of Transportation secretary-designee, stopped along County Road CB in Greenville Wednesday on "pothole patrol" to discuss the governor's "Badger Bounceback Budget Investments" for local roads and highways.

"We have an important budget in from of us right now and the money that the state of Wisconsin is looking to share with the municipalities that are doing the hard work is really, really important," Evers said.

His 2021-23 proposed state budget includes nearly $2 billion for highway rehabilitation, over $565 million for highway development and $941 million in transportation aid for counties and municipalities.

Thompson said the state DOT was able to work on 375 construction projects throughout Wisconsin last season, which didn't stop because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said cities and counties can apply for transportation aid through a $75 million supplement program. Thompson said the state received over $1 billion in applications last time.

"We know there's more need out there than we have money, but this is just continuing the progress we made from the last budget. The last budget was a tremendous start and we just need to keep at it," Thompson said. "We’re hopeful that what the governor proposed this time around with the supplement program and increase in local aid - we’ve got Highway 15 bypass that’s going to be moving forward, Interstate 41 - all of those things will help.”

This funding comes after the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2021 report card, which gave Wisconsin roads a D+.

"After decades of neglect we did get ourselves into that situation," Thompson said.

Martin Hanson, who served on the ASCE report card committee this year and acts as treasurer for ASCE Wisconsin, said the grades are based on eight different areas:

  • Capacity - Can the road or bridge handle the amount of traffic going over it
  • Condition - Is the pavement sound, or is it full of potholes
  • Funding - What does funding look like in the long term
  • Future needs - Will the facility be adequate for future traffic growth
  • Operations & maintenance - Are the roads being maintained to the operational degree they need to be
  • Public safety - Are the roads safe for people to drive on
  • Resilience - How tough or durable are the roads
  • Innovation - Are we taking advantage of new innovation within transportation engineering

"Roads and transit scored the lowest on the report card," Hanson said. "Wisconsin's economy and the nation's economy depend on a robust and reliable transportation system."

Hanson said Wisconsin relies mostly on the gas tax, which hasn't been raised since 1997, and registration fees as the primary source of revenue for transportation funding. He said officials need to look at funding stream and see what can be designed to be more sustainable into the future.

Hanson said the governor's proposed roads budget could be the start to getting back on track.

"Transportation funding might not rank very high, but it certainly is a need that we identified in our report," Hanson said. "It can improve safety and it can create jobs."

According to the ASCE report, 18 percent of Wisconsin roads are in fair condition or below. The report also states drivers pay about $545 a year in car costs due to bad roads.