Just Fix It Wisconsin
Study: Those bumpy, slow rides cost you $2,000 5/6/2016
5/5/2016, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Milwaukee area commuters stuck in traffic, here’s one more thing to fume over: You’re spending an additional $2,060 annually because of delays from congestion and traffic accidents.
In addition to the dollars, which include added vehicle costs from delays, the average driver in suburban Milwaukee loses 38 hours staring at red brake lights. For Madison drivers, it’s $2,072 and 36 hours each year.
Crumbling roads and bridges as well as congested roadways cost Wisconsin motorists $6 billion annually, according to a report released Thursday by national transportation research group TRIP.
“Drivers are not only hitting potholes every day, but it’s also affecting their wallets,” said Carolyn Kelly, associate director of research and communications for Washington, D.C.-based TRIP.
Each year, $264 billion in goods is shipped from Wisconsin and another $236 billion is shipped into the state, mostly by truck. But road improvements and upgrades have not kept pace with the state’s economy — 42% of major roads in Wisconsin are in mediocre to poor condition; in the Milwaukee area, 56% of major roads are considered mediocre or poor, and in Madison it’s even higher at 68%, the study concluded.
Bridges are in bad shape, too. A total of 14% of bridges in the state show significant deterioration or do not meet current design standards, 9% are structurally deficient and 5% are functionally obsolete.
Manufacturers in Wisconsin depend on good roads to move their goods and business could suffer “if you can’t move those things to market,” said Steve Baas, senior vice president of governmental affairs and public policy at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
Funding for roads comes from a variety of sources, including taxes paid on each gallon of fuel — currently 51.3 cents in Wisconsin, of which 30.9 cents is state taxes. As cars become more fuel-efficient and fuel-sipping hybrid vehicles grow in popularity, the pot of money from fuel taxes is expected to shrink while more vehicles pound Wisconsin’s pavement.
That could mean boosting the state gas tax, increasing user fees or — horrors — toll roads in Wisconsin.
“There are no magic beans here, you’re going to have to pay one way or the other,” said Baas, adding that all possible funding sources should be discussed. “I’m not saying all the options will be preferable in the end, but everything should be in the discussion.”
Wisconsin’s 4.2 million licensed drivers pay an average of $274 each year in state and local registration-related fees and gas taxes, ranking the state 33rd in the nation.
Kelly noted that Wisconsin motorists are “already paying a hidden tax” in costs spent delayed by congestion.
Building more lanes and expanding roads might not be the answer, said Peter Skopec, director of WISPIRG, a state public interest advocacy group. While Skopec agrees that Wisconsin’s infrastructure is in crisis, he thinks congestion is actually caused by expansion because adding lanes increases the number of drivers who choose to travel on an expanded road. While there may be short-term gains from road expansion, he said, more people will use the highway and congestion will eventually return.
“Our local roads are in abysmal shape across the state, especially in rural Wisconsin. The farther north you get, the worse it gets. That’s because we prioritized highway expansion over maintaining what we have. It’s left us with more expensive infrastructure that we can’t pay to maintain,” said Skopec.
Skopec said Wisconsin transportation funding should be spent on repairing highways, encouraging motorists to use local roads and investing in public transit.
“Over the last 20 years, the transportation spending balance has been very skewed toward highway expansion, which has led to cuts in funding for local road repairs, repairs of existing highways, bridges and transit, and resulted in the crisis laid out in the TRIP report,” Skopec said in a follow-up email.
TRIP is a nonprofit group sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, businesses involved in highway and transit engineering and construction and labor unions.
Vehicle miles traveled in Wisconsin increased by 5% from 2000 to 2014 and though traffic dipped during the recession, more people are driving more miles now. The state’s economy has grown, too — Wisconsin’s gross domestic product increased 18% when adjusted for inflation between 2000 and 2014.
This item also appeared in the Appleton Post-Crescent.