3/10/19 – The La Crosse Tribune

What happens when you kick the issue of road funding down the road for too long?

You get potholes — lots of potholes.

That’s our challenge in Wisconsin — deteriorating roads and an unsustainable revenue plan that can’t keep up with basic maintenance needs.

Our road quality has slipped dramatically in various ratings compared with other states — especially neighbors who have raised more money to fix their roads.

On one index, 32 percent of Wisconsin’s state highways are rated good. That compares to 52 percent for Iowa (which has approved a recent gas tax increase) and others that are much higher.

It’s a lousy report card — and we should be ashamed.

It’s one of the reasons we’re pleased that Craig Thompson has been nominated to lead the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Thompson is the longtime leader of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, and he has come here and throughout the state laying out the consequences of our unwillingness to tackle the problem in a straightforward, nonpartisan fashion.

Potholes are nonpartisan, by the way.

During a visit with the La Crosse Tribune editorial board last week, Thompson talked about the backlog of road projects that need attention.

He said that when county engineers in Wisconsin were asked how long it would take to catch up with road maintenance and replacement needs on local roads with current revenues, the answer was 200 years.

Does anyone believe that’s acceptable?

It’s bad for business. It’s bad for tourism. It’s bad for all of us.

It’s not good for safety, either. The DOT secretary, by the way, gets an alert every time there’s a fatal accident in our state — a reminder that safety should come first.

Officials of companies that drive a lot of miles have said repeatedly during transportation forums in our area that they’re spending more to maintain vehicles and replacing them sooner because our roads have deteriorated.

There’s a cost to that, too — a big cost.

Let’s quit pretending. It won’t make the potholes disappear. If you want to see a bumper crop, just drive La Crosse Street. We’re pleased the DOT plans to move up pavement replacement to 2022 from the original schedule of 2025.

Gov. Tony Evers has recommended a variety of ideas for raising revenue to fix the roads. You may not like every idea, but we must invest more to increase safety.

His plans include:

  • Increasing the motor fuel tax by 8 cents per gallon. That would raise $485 million over the biennium. According to the state, if you drive 15,000 miles in a 2019 Honda Accord at 30 mpg, you’ll pay $3.33 more a month for gas.
  • Resuming indexing of gas tax and tie it to increases in the consumer price index beginning April 1, 2020. That would raise an estimated $42 million during the biennium.
  • Increasing registration fees for heavy trucks by 27 percent, raising $36 million over the biennium.
  • Increasing the title fee on original or transfer vehicle titles by $10, raising $36 million during the biennium

There are other ideas, too, including repealing the minimum markup law, which certainly will stir controversy.

With the added revenue, the governor wants to pump an additional $320 million into the state highway rehabilitation program; $66 million for General Transportation Aids; $1.9 million for the local road improvement program; plus additional funding for public transportation, transportation for seniors and more funding for air traffic control, harbors and rail.

The other appealing part of this plan is to cut the percentage of debt service from 20 percent to 10 percent by the end of this year.

In other words, a dime of our money will go to pay off debt instead of 20 cents.

That means a lot more money goes to road repairs.

Goodness knows, our roads need it.