Forum highlights county road woes

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN COUNTY TRANSPORTATION Director Greg Schnell gave a demonstration of the road rating system used by the county and other local governments as part of a ”Just Fix It” forum on transportation needs last Thursday in Sheboygan. — Photo courtesy of Gary Feider, The Sounder, Random Lake SHEBOYGAN COUNTY TRANSPORTATION Director Greg Schnell gave a demonstration of the road rating system used by the county and other local governments as part of a ”Just Fix It” forum on transportation needs last Thursday in Sheboygan. — Photo courtesy of Gary Feider, The Sounder, Random Lake SHEBOYGAN – It’s a rough ride ahead for roads in the county – and for those who drive on them.

That was the message delivered by a parade of speakers at a “Just Fix It” forum on transportation Thursday.

The event, sponsored by the county, was one of 70 such events across the state Thursday, with all 72 of the state’s counties participating.

“The transportation system is critical to our economy,” County Administrator Adam Payne told the audience of nearly 90 people in opening the forum.

“Some people have said we (in Wisconsin) have the third worst roads in the country and that’s sad,” Payne pointed out, citing several different studies.

The majority of those in attendance were state, county, city, village or town officials. The ten speakers were from towns, villages and cities in the county.

Payne noted that nearly 500 communities across the state have passed a “JustFixItWI” resolution promulgated by the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin. The resolution calls on the state “to adequately and sustainably fund Wisconsin’s multi-modal transportation system.”

County Transportation Director Greg Schnell outlined the rating system used for highways, roads and streets throughout the county.

He reported that 274 of the 450 miles of county roads need resurfacing, at the least. Additionally, 73 of the 152 highway bridges in the county are owned by the county and 20 of those have weight limits due to their condition.

“Obviously, that limits commerce,” Schnell observed. “This is a very important issue and it’s going to be important for a very long time.”

“We have seen a signifi cant shift downward in the (overall) pavement rating for the city of Sheboygan,” city of Sheboygan Director of Public Works David Biebel said, echoing Schnell.

“It’s clear our road repair will require additional funding,” added Sheboygan Mayor Michael Vandersteen.

The picture is the same for town roads in the county, according to Sherman Town Chairman William Goehring.

He pointed out that his town’s roads rated at 6.41 out of a possible 10 overall on the PACER rating scale in 2005. The latest rating for the town’s roads was 5.51.

That’s because his town, like others in the county, has not been able to adequately fund road work, despite that item increasing from 17 percent of the town’s total budget in 1986 to 46 percent in 2016.

He blamed the trend on increasing oil and paving costs, decreasing state aid for transportation and stateimposed levy limits on local governments.

“Wisconsin needs a sustainable solution for maintaining our critical transportation system,” Goehring concluded.

“We don’t have a lot of money to stick into roads,” agreed Scott Town Chairman Randy Narbatovics. “We’ve been talking about roads for years and nothing gets done. All of us are finally getting together to make our voices heard.”

“We all know our roads are bad,” Plymouth Mayor Donald Pohlman stated.

He placed part of the blame on a change in state law in 2011 which prohibited cities over a certain size from using the county Highway Department for street projects, which Pohlman said left the city with only one contractor for such work. “We can only do two-thirds of the roads we used to do.

“Madison gave in to political pressure and we felt the trickle down,” Pohlman stated. “We’re handcuffed every time we turn around.”

Other speakers cited the importance of roads for their local economies.

Elkhart Lake Village President Alan Rudnick pointed out that, “Tourism is the lifeblood of the village. Good roads are essential components to make our guests’ stay as great as possible.”

For Lima Town Chairman Charles Born, roads are vital to his town’s main industry, agriculture.

“We value our farmers and we want them to move as efficiently as possible,” Born said.

State Sen. Daniel LeMahieu gave what he termed “the state perspective” on the issue in response to the speakers.

He noted that a pair of studies – one by the state Department of Transportation and one by the Legislative Audit Bureau – of the state’s transportation needs are currently underway.

Those reports are due next year, according to LeMahieu. “It’s important for us to wait for those audit reports and it’s important for us to keep all our options open.”

He pointed out that the last state budget increased local transportation aid 4 percent, while limiting to state borrowing to the lowest level in 30 years. LeMahieu contrasted that with the $3.5 billion to $4.5 billion in borrowing in the 2007-09 and 2009-11 state budgets, respectively.

The former Sheboygan County Board supervisor noted that Gov. Scott Walker’s next proposed budget would limit borrowing to $500 million and includes no new taxes or fees.

On that issue, LeMahieu conceded, “There’s been some difference of opinion between the governor and the Legislature. There should be a good discussion.”

The TDA Just Fix It resolution noted that Wisconsin motorists pay significantly less in total gas tax and registration fees than in all of the neighboring states.

“We’re going backwards on keeping our roads fixed. This topic is not going to go away,” Pohlman concluded.

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