Real roads aren’t paved just with good intentions

Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

Wisconsin highways are in trouble and so are those in Sheboygan County. It may come as a shock, but we are not providing enough funding to cover the cost of the upkeep of existing roads and bridges or the need to improve or expand others. While it is important not to let it happen, we are heading in the wrong direction.

Some politicians will tell you the problem is not that we are taxing enough, we are just spending too much. When discussing roads, these politicians are driving on the wrong side ofthe road and in the wrong direction - in part because they are deathly afraid to use the word gas “tax” and have an honest discussion on the issue.

Taxes and fees is how we how we need to pay for our roads - but we are not and we are puttingour roads and bridges in repair danger. Lets look at some of the financial realities taking place intoday’s market place.

With the near financial crash of five years ago, millions of people lost their jobs. Driving nationwide decreased and tax income from gasoline dropped according. In addition, automobilesand trucks have been improving their gas mileage over the same period add- ing to another drop in spendable gas tax dollars for roads. The state and federal gas tax money tree didn’t stop giving but it certainly slowed. Nationwide, our roads and bridge are worse because of it.

On the Sheboygan County level, even though fairly major highway employee cuts have savedmoney through the use of new technology and equipment, the county has been hit by increased prices as well as declining state General Transportation Aids.

Here are a few examples on how Sheboygan County Transportation Department has been hit by higher prices thus forcing fewer road and bridge repairs to be made:

- A/C Oil: 2004 costs were $195.00 per liquid ton; 2012 it was $609.50 per liquid ton.

- Salt: 2003 salt was $30 per ton; today it has increased to $60 per ton.

- Diesel Fuel: 2002 the cost was $1.44 per gallon; 2013 it was $3.46 per gallon.

- Tri-Axle Truck: In 2003 this truck cost $116,000; in 2010 that truck cost increased to $169,940.

Gregf Schnell, Transportation Director for Sheboygan County, says studies indicate we should be resurfacing our county roads every 15 years. Based on 450 miles of countytrunk highways, we should be paving approximately 30 miles per year in order to keep up with the repaving/ maintenance cycle but, repaving has only been about half of that number (8 to 15 miles of road) a year. Recent bonding for resurfacing has helped Sheboygan County pave between 20 to 25 miles per year over the last two years but that is still below the recommend repaving schedule needed. And, the funds for road bonding tend to come from outside the gas tax funding.

Counties receive state General Transportation Aids (GTA) payments based on a share of eligible highway related expenditures and are eligible for a per mile payment. Counties have seen a significant decline in state GTA payments. In 1988 when the distribution of funds began, counties received a payment of 30% of eligible cost, by 2003 it declined to 24%, and in 2012 it had fallen to 18.2%. State politicians were drying up the gas tax money tree. Less money, higher costs, insures less road/bridge repair and a likely loss of productivity to our local communities.

The moral of this story, if you want good roads and bridges, you need to be honest and find the money to pay for them. With middle class wages all but stuck, talking road taxes is a hard sell.

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