Sunday, April 8, 2018

Wisconsin roads, funding still a mess that WisGOP chose to ignore

Wanted to direct you to an excellent, in-depth article from the Capital Times’ Katelyn Ferral on Wisconsin's transportation mess situation.

Ferral notes that Wisconsin roads were already in a shaky state four years, based on information that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation sent to federal officials.
In a Legislative Audit of DOT last year, analysts cited figures from a 2014 report from the state to the Federal Highway Administration showing that 32.2 percent of the state’s roads were “good,” 58.7 percent were “acceptable” and 9.1 percent were “not acceptable.”

“The proportion of state highways in good condition in Wisconsin was considerably lower than in six other midwestern states and the entire nation,” according to the audit.
But Governor Walker and the WisGOP Legislature have refused to raise the state's gas tax and vehicle registration fees for most Wisconsinites in the 4 years since, meaning that there wasn't enough money in the state's Transportation Fund to take care of these needs.

Not surprisingly, things have gotten worse on Wisconsin highways since then. Ferral's article also includes this graphic from a US News and World Report survey in 2016 that illustrates this deterioration.

Because of the lack of new revenue, Governor Walker and the GOP Legislature decided to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars in each of the last few budgets. But that strategy has had the double whammy of not being enough to pay for the needs we have, and making the state's debt spiral higher, which means even less money is available to pay for the increasing amounts of roads that have to be fixed.

You know things are bad when the right-wing shills at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) are openly saying the current road funding situation can’t go on as it currently exists.
“I think people are realizing the system we have is not sustainable long term. We have to go to something technologically relevant and more sustainable in the long-term,” said Steve Baas, vice president of government affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “There’s no doubt that debt service reduces the power of the fund overall and in the end you have to buy down if you want the fund to run efficiently.”

Many of MMAC’s 1,800 members are concerned about how the state is addressing an aging transportation system, a problem that Walker inherited.

“I think it’s a concern going forward and what it will do to constrain their ability to grow if we don’t take care of our infrastructure,” Baas said. “(The) big picture our members get is there is a structural problem with the way we fund roads and that a lot of that isn’t just because of the debt service going up but the traditional sources of revenues are slowly becoming obsolete.”
Not mentioned by the MMAC hack is that Walker has made things even worse in most of the state due to the MMAC-backed Fox-con, as the original package had $242 million in borrowing put into expanding I-94 down in the Foxconn-sin region.

We also found out a couple of months ago that Walker's DOT chose to move over $134 million of state highway funds to Foxconn-sin. This was bad enough, given that the move was never discussed when the Fox-con package was being debated, but those diversions of funding mean that up to $90 million will be taken away from highway work in the rest of the state.

May I add that Wisconsin roads and highways did not get a dime of the hundreds of millions of dollars that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP gave away in the last days of this legislative session. This means that the backlog gets larger and the costs taxpayers will ultimately pay are going to be even higher in the future. It also means you'll see a lot more of this in the coming years.

This late winter blast is going to make things even worse. Parts of Northern Wisconsin are still reporting snow cover above 1 foot at this time, and Central Wisconsin still has coverage of 4-8 inches. In addition, as temperatures bounce above and below freezing later than normal in the southern part of the state, it means more potholes open up than normal, with less time to fill them in before the Summer driving season kicks in.

We need adults who will make the hard choices to come up with what it takes to allow Wisconsin to stop being in the bottom 10 for roads, and stop the slide in economic competitiveness. And I bet investing in roads gets a lot more of a bang for the buck for job growth than the Fox-con plan of "throwing billions of subsidies at a foreign company and hoping it'll work out." That's true for both the short term, and the long term.

EDIT- Here's a startling point, where the state is spending up to $40 million to upgrade County Line Road near Foxconn, but only $47 million for similar projects for the entire North Central Region in 2018.

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