Just Fix It Wisconsin

Thompson: Fix Wisconsin’s road now 1/31/2017

1/31/2017, Green Bay Press Gazette – Wisconsin has some of the worst roads in the country. That has been confirmed yet again by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau. In comparison to our neighbors in the Midwest, the condition of our roads is embarrassing. The audit illustrates that about 32 percent of Wisconsin’s highways are in good condition. In comparison, Indiana has the best ranking in the Midwest of 75 percent in good condition, and Iowa is the lowest non-Wisconsin state at 55 percent.

Saying that Wisconsin is lagging behind would be like saying the Cleveland Browns didn’t make it to the Super Bowl this year. The gap is staggering.

Also, consider this: Wisconsin has the second most transportation-dependent economy in the country. Indiana’s economy is the first.

This is why people across the state have been calling on our elected leaders to do something about this situation. It is time for action, not excuses.

Now, some are using the findings of this same audit as the latest rationale to disinvest in our transportation infrastructure. You see, this audit points out that in addition to having awful roads, the Department of Transportation didn’t account for construction inflation and other factors when providing estimated costs of major highway projects. As a result, projects ended up costing significantly more than what the original price tag said they would.

The audit raises a legitimate issue. Think about when you buy a house. There are truth-in-lending laws that make sure you know what the cost of financing your house is over 15 years versus 30 years. The lawmakers should demand that they receive the same type of information on the front end. It would also help them better quantify the cost of deferring and delaying projects.

Whether our elected officials should have done better at asking questions or the Department of Transportation should have done a more thorough job laying out the total picture can be debated. Truthfully, there is shared responsibility.

In the end, we still have the worst roads in our region and the third worst in the entire country. Finger pointing doesn’t change that. If there is anything taxpayers are tired of, it is exactly that. We just want progress made on the problem.

If there are efficiencies to be found, then find them. If there are best practices that can be implemented, then implement them. If we need to raise additional revenue, like Iowa has and Michigan has and Indiana is considering, then raise them. If we need to do all of the above — as I believe we clearly do — then do it. We rely on the people we elect to solve problems.

The audit points out that we have arrived at our abysmal situation through a steady deterioration during the past decade. How do we begin to climb back to respectability when it comes to our transportation infrastructure? That is the bottom line.

The answer simply cannot be that we use the problems pointed out in the audit as a justification to sit on our hands and watch our roads go from bad to worse.

George Washington once famously stated, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

Just fix It.

Craig Thompson is executive director of Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.