Just Fix It Wisconsin

Freiberg: We can’t put off state’s road repair bill any longer 3/5/2017

3/4/2017, Appleton Post-Crescent – Drivers in Wisconsin are reminded of our road conditions every day. We encounter numerous potholes and crumbling pavement as we drive to work, school and run our errands.

Especially in the wintertime, the salt and chemicals applied to our roadways and the inevitable freeze/thaw patterns of winter contributes to the deterioration of our roads. It is clear to me that road improvements in the state of Wisconsin and the Fox Valley are needed.

It is my opinion that the state must increase funding for our roads in the upcoming two-year state budget. The safety of our families relies on safe roads and highways in good condition. Bottom line, we need to allocate monies to resurface and re-construct the roadways, some of which are at the end of their useful life.

Wisconsin has 11,800 miles of state and interstate highways and over 100,000 miles of county and town roads. There are 13,700 bridges that require maintenance. There are over 4 million Wisconsin drivers and approximately 59 billion miles are driven on Wisconsin roads each year.

The 2013 report of the Wisconsin Transportation Finance and Policy Commission predicts that the status of Wisconsin roads will rise from 20 percent poor condition in 2014 to 42 percent poor condition in 2023. As a result of these circumstances, the Wisconsin commission recommends increasing the funds for highway maintenance $427 million a year.

It is not only a state issue. Nationally, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion a year is required to repair and maintain the nation’s roads. President Trump has mentioned a plan that would combine private/public funding to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. At this time, the details are simply not known and any pending policy is basically undefined. In any event, the state needs to take responsibility to provide for safe roads and continuing funding of infrastructure maintenance.

To be fair, the Wisconsin State Journal reports that the proposed budget does deliver a 6.8 percent increase ($56.9 million) increase to $896.5 million over two years for local transportation funding. Longer term, though, we are faced with billion dollar shortfalls. As it relates to our state’s infrastructure, the Wisconsin Policy Institute concludes that Wisconsin will face a $1 billion gap each year in transportation funding; due in part to reduction in gas taxes as a result of increased fuel efficiency. The paradox we must face is as we drive more miles; the money for repairs shrinks.

Most of the transportation funds (55 percent) come from motor fuel taxes and registration fees. Motor fuel tax is currently 18.4 cents a gallon at the federal level; and 30.9 cents a gallon in Wisconsin. Diesel and aircraft fuels are similarly taxed. The taxes have not been raised since 1993 for federal and 2006 for Wisconsin.

In a February guest column in the Wisconsin State Journal, Governor Walker writes that “we should not raise the gas tax.” His position is clear, however Governor Walker is either unable or unwilling to propose a concise solution other than vague assertions that the money will need to come from other parts of the budget. The governor’s reluctance to propose a viable option is unacceptable in my view. Others agree, as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “it is not responsible for us just to continue to kick the can down the road and put more and more spending on the state credit card.”

In the short term, we should prioritize the repairs of current roads and we should keep highway funds dedicated to transportation. In the long term, we should probably raise the motor fuel tax to provide for these repairs. Possibly, installing toll roads is an option to raise the needed funds, given the current technology that enables the automatic collection of tolls at speed at modern tollbooths.

In the next few months, as the budget is discussed in the state legislature, we should demand that our elected representatives take action and provide the means to maintain our state’s infrastructure. If raising taxes is not an option, as the governor states, then what is the proposal? It’s time to take action.

Paul Freiberg is a Neenah resident. He can be reached at paulfreiberg@hotmail.com.