State’s transportation needs must be addressed

THERE ARE MANY THINGS that are vital to every community and everyone. Roads would have to rank high on that list.

Even if you don’t own a car or drive, roads are still an important part of life – to bring the goods and products you buy or consume to local stores or your door, to provide a way to deliver emergency services when needed, to help service providers keep their services coming and much more.

In short, roads support the economic lifeblood of our communities and our lives.

But roads – and bridges – are not inexpensive and do not last forever, although the need for them does.

That was the message delivered last week at a county-sponsored “Just Fix It” forum on transportation needs.

It was one of 70 such forums involving all 72 counties held across the state the same night, under the auspices of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.

The underlying message of the evening is that the state’s roads are in less-than-optimal shape – according to several independent analyses – at the same time that funding from outside sources for local governments is decreasing or at best remaining the same and costs are increasing.

The meeting proved to be a little bit of preaching to the choir, as a majority of the nearly 90 people in attendance were town, village, city and county officials who face these issues everyday in their own community.

But there was plenty of good information and solid – if somewhat discouraging – numbers shared. The program was taped for broadcast on local cable television and is worth watching.

Several local legislators were in attendance, as well as candidates for the Legislature, so the message was delivered to those with a say or the potential to have a say over the state budget and state aid for local roads.

The county took a significant step toward addressing this crucial issue earlier this year when it approved a one-half percent county sales tax starting next Jan. 1, with all of the proceeds earmarked for transportation needs.

That’s important, because as county Transportation Director Greg Schnell reported at the forum, more than 60 percent of county miles are in need of resurfacing, at the least, or rebuilding. In addition, 20 of the 73 county-owned bridges are in such bad shape that weight limits have been imposed on them.

The picture is similar for cities, villages and towns throughout the county, which makes another feature of the recently-adopted county sales tax so important. A portion of the sales tax proceeds will be shared will local municipalities, giving a needed shot in the arm to their road and street needs and costs.

The TDA has noted that drivers in the state of Wisconsin pay less in total gas taxes and vehicle registration fees than those in all of our neighboring states and suggests that raising either or both of those would be one way to generate needed funds for road and bridge repairs.

But Gov. Scott Walker has adamantly refused to even consider raising taxes or fees, for highways or any other purpose, or to increase borrowing for the same.

The result is a standoff that will do no one any good and will result in continued deterioration of roads and bridges across the state.

State Sen. Devin LeMahieu told the audience that studies of the state’s road conditions, needs and funding are underway in both the Department of Transportation and the Legislative Audit Bureau. Those reports are due next spring, he said, and may well be the key to determining future solutions to the issue.

Whatever the studies show, it is obvious that something needs to be done about the state of roads in the state, and the sooner the better.


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