Monday, April 10, 2017

Local Wisconsin roads continue to fall apart, will Madison help them at all?

Found this excellent article from over the weekend by the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram's Eric Lindquist, where he talked to Western Wisconsin highways commissioners who are seeing their roads deteriorate in recent years. What Lindquist's article makes clear is that any small bump in aid from the state that might come this year isn't going to be close to paying back several years of neglect and underfunding.
“Locally, we’re getting a 2 to 3 percent increase in general transportation aids, which isn’t even enough to chip-seal a quarter mile of road,” said Eau Claire County highway commissioner Jon Johnson.

With about 42 percent of its road surfaces rated poor or mediocre and on a downward spiral, the county has borrowed $6.5 million in each of the past three years in an effort to catch up. The extra money will enable the county to repave 23 miles of highway this year, exceeding its goal of 20 miles per year, Johnson said.

Dunn County highway commissioner Jesse Rintala said the county generally doesn’t reconstruct highways because of the high costs and instead relies on resurfacing, repaving and reconditioning projects. The county plans to work on about 12 miles of such projects this year, which is about 30 percent fewer miles than would be required to keep up with its 425 miles of county trunk highways based on a 25-year pavement life.

Chippewa County is fighting the same losing battle.

“At 489 centerline miles of county highways in Chippewa County, the goal would be to replace about 25 miles of pavement per year to maintain a 25-year pavement replacement cycle,” highway commissioner Brian Kelley said. “At the current funding levels, we are only able to replace 10 miles of pavement per year, which results in a 49-year pavement replacement cycle.”
And Eau Claire County Commissioner Johnson might not even get that 2-3% increase in local aids, because when the GOP-led Joint Finance Committee ripped up Governor Walker's DOT budget last week, Walker's $71 million increase for local road and general transportation aids and his proposed $33.7 million boost for maintenance also went away.

Obviously, that money could come back as the budget debate develops, but Lindquist's article points out the severity of needs that already exist, and some of the deterioration is unlikely to be reversed. For example, Lindquist notes that the Trempealeau County Town of Chimney Rock has had 7 miles of its roads go back to gravel, and how a bridge on Buffalo County Road U partially collapsed in February, and drivers are still being detoured around it 2 months later.

Yes, Western Wisconsin roads will get some help coming from Washington, as part of $12 million that was announced last week from the US DOT as part of Emergency Funding to offset damages caused by major floods last year. But those damage (and the associated repairs) go beyond the wreckage that had already occurred, and it is highly unlikely that those local governments will be getting more than Walker's original budget in whatever ends up being signed.

And when combined with another year without an increase for general shared revenues to state municipalities, it becomes all the more crucial to see if the GOP Legislature comes up with a plan to increase DOT revenues enough to stop the bleeding and get the repair cycle somewhat back to normal. A whole lot of local government officials are running out of patience as GOP_run state government continues to dither on coming up with a real solution to fill the increasing potholes that line Wisconsin roads.


  1. There must be a political cost for this level of failure. This isn't even what you'd call a progressive agenda - heck, this used to be a core Republican point.

  2. Just checked out the American Society of Civil Engineer's latest infrastructure report card, which says driving on roads in need of repair costs each Wisconsin driver $637 annually (national average is $533 a year) for additional vehicle maintenance--27% of our 80,338 miles of public roads are rated in poor condition. Also, 1,232 of 14,230 of our bridges are structurally deficient.

    This certainly can't be helping our economy grow, or serving the needs of its citizens. The Fitzwalkerstan crew will soon pay the price for their negligence.

    1. Thanks for adding that in. And with all the rain and temperature changes, I cant see this getting any better in the next few months.

      By the way, Shawn Johnson at WPR has a similar story today about how local govts are up in the air about funding after the JFC's move

  3. I see the Leg is going to try again to kill the remainder of the prevailing wage law. That feels like the other shoe dropping.

    We need to do it of course to help reduce our transportation deficit. I heard Vicki McKenna carping on this last night while driving home. There was something in there about veterans too, but the connection seemed very murky.

    Pretty consistent theme among conservatives here - people just cost too much. Between safety, the environment, health care and the minimum wage - how will the likes of John Menard and Diane Hendricks possibly manage?

    Maybe another 40 years of stagnant wages will wake people up.

    1. Yeah, not seeing how wage-suppression is going to save the $450 million a year that they need to make something up. But the fact that Koch-funded Icki McKenna was trying to prop this should tell you something.

    2. "We need to do it of course to help reduce our transportation deficit."

      I sometimes forget that sarcasm doesn't come across so great in this medium.

    3. Oh, I was right there with you. Just pointing out the fallacy that wage-suppression is going to help solve this problem...or any other one in this state