Just Fix It Wisconsin

La Crosse Tribune editorial: Turn focus to state’s crumbling roads 9/28/2015

9/28/2015, La Crosse Tribune – Yogi Berra was right. You can observe a lot by watching.

Just observe the priorities of the Wisconsin Legislature. It continues to focus on social issues that may or may not need fixing. Meanwhile, observe the priorities of the Wisconsin Counties Association, which met in La Crosse recently. The counties association knows exactly what needs to be fixed — Wisconsin’s crumbling roads.

Seventy percent of the state’s roads are rated mediocre to poor by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

How do we rate nationally? Only two states — Illinois and Connecticut — rank lower.

We should be ashamed.

The counties association and the state’s Transportation Development Association unveiled the “Just Fix It” campaign during the conference here. The Tribune published a photo of Highway YY to accompany the story — a 41-year-old stretch of road that officials say has “alligatored.”

It’s wonderful when we have to make up words to describe how lousy our roads are. That road won’t be fixed at least until 2020, under the current schedule. County highway Commissioner Ron Chamberlain says county roads need $90 million of work — and the budget last year was $5.68 million.

That math doesn’t work. The alligators are winning. …

Chamberlain said more than half of the county’s 285 miles of road need replacing. You can pick a letter in the alphabet, and whether it’s HD, DS or just about any other letter, you can bet that road needs work.

Let’s remember that this didn’t just happen.

Ten years ago, legislators ignored warnings and took the easy way out when they stopped raising the gas tax with inflation. This year, they rejected Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to borrow $1.3 billion for roads and instead approved $850 million. And they made sure that, despite funding shortfalls, there wouldn’t be delays in big projects in southeast Wisconsin.

Even some of the Republicans from our area voted against the budget — in part because of the way the Legislature thumbed its nose at the transportation needs of western Wisconsin.

Once again, the Legislature kicked the can down the road — and it fell into a pothole.

There’s one other potential funding priority by a public body that bears watching, and that’s the plan to remodel the council chambers in La Crosse’s City Hall.

Without question, the room isn’t terribly functional or audience-friendly. Throw in asbestos, and you’ve got problems.

City staff are doing the right thing by researching options for renovation. But let’s remember that the work is being considered because the council will shrink from 17 to 13 members with the April 2017 elections. And let’s remember that voters agreed to downsize the council to improve efficiency and lower the cost of government.

So let’s be a bit skeptical at the notion of spending upwards of a half-million dollars on a complex problem that — in essence — could be as simple as moving four chairs out of the room.