7/8/2016, Dubuque Telegraph Herald – In recent weeks, multiple southwest Wisconsin municipalities and counties have passed resolutions advocating for an increase in state infrastructure funding.
The “Just Fix It” resolution, developed by the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association, requests that bonding and user fees be adjusted to finance local and state road projects.
The condition of the state’s highways has been pegged as among the bottom-third in the country, and officials say town and county roads and bridges are deteriorating as well.
At recent meetings, the Grant, Crawford, Lafayette and Iowa county boards of supervisors passed the resolution. Several cities did, too.
“We’ve got a lot of crumbling infrastructure,” said Prairie du Chien Mayor Dave Hemmer, a trucker.
During the past seven to 10 years, he has seen state highways deteriorate during his daily runs. Hemmer points to U.S. 61 between Readstown and Lancaster.
“You’ve got to hold on the steering wheel with both hands,” he said. “That’s the worst road there is. … The state needs to come up with some steady funding mechanism to get these roads fixed.”
Although the Wisconsin Department of Transportation faces a $600 million budget shortfall, Gov. Scott Walker has said he does not support an increase in the state gas tax or vehicle registration fees without tax reductions elsewhere. The Legislature also expressed a reluctance to finance DOT work through bonding.
Municipalities and counties must cope with a state-mandated property tax levy limit, which prevents municipalities and counties from raising taxes to compensate for shortfalls in state funding, said Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Telock.
Bridges are neglected, too, he said. Counties must impose weight restrictions as they deteriorate.
“I’ve got 22 bridges with weight restrictions in the county,” Telock said. “Of 146 bridges that we have, that’s the highest number I’ve ever had.”
Such restrictions pose challenges for emergency responders and truckers, Telock said.
“They have to truck 15, 20, 30 miles away just to avoid these structures,” he said. “They used to be able to make straight line. (Now), they’ve got to be going in a big horseshoe. It costs money.”
A well-maintained road system is vital to rural counties, said Lafayette Highway Commissioner Tom Jean.
“There’s not enough funding to fix them right,” he said. “Where we need to be blacktopping, we’re seal-coating and doing overlays.”
The county receives about $600,000 in state general transportation aid, the largest category of local aid the state provides, but those dollars are only 15 percent of the department’s budget, Jean said.
Although there are other sources of state money available, he said, the county does not qualify because it lacks matching dollars.
Although he has not seen a copy of the “Just Fix It” resolution, Wisconsin Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, said he is aware of the problem.
“I think we’ve done an OK job maintaining our major throughways and four-lanes, but when I get out on county and town roads, I really notice that we need to make sure that we’re continuing to invest in what we have and improve upon it,” he said.
Wisconsin Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, said the state must look at new revenue sources for infrastructure repair, which could include everything from toll roads to vehicle registration fee or gas tax increases.
Tranel noted he would not support a tax increase simply to enhance general transportation aid.
“Any uppers in transportation revenues needs to be directed to rural and county roads because, to me, that’s where I see the biggest need,” he said.