3/20/2016, La Crosse Tribune – Just how bad – or good — are the roads in Wisconsin?

It depends who you ask.

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance handed out a 2015 report card, and the lowest of 23 grades went to the condition of our roads — a D.

If you ask the American Society of Civil Engineers, you’ll hear that Wisconsin has the third-worst road conditions in the United States. On top of that, the group estimates nearly 2,000 of our bridges — roughly 14 percent — are either structurally deficient or obsolete. Because of that number, according to the U.S. Department of Chamber of Commerce, drivers in Wisconsin pay a total of $1.147 billion each year — that’s $281 per motorist — in additional vehicle repairs caused by roads that need fixing.

Nonsense, says the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. WisDOT says that report from the American Society of Civil Engineers uses 2013 data that measures the roughness or smoothness of the road surface, and not the true measure of its condition.

“In fact, 2015 pavement condition data demonstrates that 86 percent of state highways and 91 percent of local roadways are rated in fair and above condition. Conversely, 14 percent of state highways, and 9 percent of local roadways are rated in poor and below condition.”

Double-nonsense, according to Mark D. O’Connell with the Wisconsin Counties Association and Daniel J. Fedderly with the Wisconsin County Highway Association.

The county highway association recently conducted an inventory that estimates that one mile of county road construction today won’t be reconstructed for another 196 years at the current pace of reconstruction.

The association asked all 72 county highway commissioners:

  • How many miles of county roads do you have under your responsibility?
  • How many miles of county roads have you reconstructed in the last five years?
  • How many miles of county roads have you resurfaced in the last five years?

The result painted a far different picture than the one portrayed by WisDOT.

“We all know that it is unrealistic to expect a road to last almost 200 years,” said Fedderly, executive director of the county highway group. “We simply cannot be giving the public or our legislative leaders, who are responsible for adequate transportation funding, a false impression by recklessly stating that 91 precent of local roads are in ‘fair or above’ condition.”

One of the biggest rifts during the previous budget debate in the Legislature surrounded the need for road funding.

Because of budget shortfalls, up to $82 million in state highway maintenance will be delayed at least a year. That includes 32 projects in La Crosse, Vernon, Monroe, Crawford, Jackson and Trempealeau counties.

Last fall, La Crosse County Highway Commissioner Ron Chamberlain took a crew from WisconsinEye on a ride along some of our roads and bridges to show the lousy condition that some face — a bridge with crumbling concrete and exposed metal supports, and asphalt with cracks that look like the skin of an alligator.

Just in case you’re wondering, that’s not a good look — and it means the roadway is not in good condition.

Road funding isn’t just a Wisconsin problem. Minnesota has done a lousy job of finding long-term solutions, and so has the federal government.

Our federal and state elected leaders keep kicking the can down the road, hoping it falls into a pothole so we won’t see it sitting there.

We need much more refurbished pavement — and far less spin.

To accomplish that, we need a plan — a painful, expensive, honest plan — so that taxpayers understand the road map for what’s ahead.

Continuing to defer road work — and pretending that road construction can last near two centuries — is not the solution.

This editorial also ran in the Chippewa Herald, Portage Daily Register and Baraboo News Republic.