There’s no public transportation system out here on the rural Dane-Jefferson County line. No municipal buses. No taxis. No trolley.
Neither do we have a harbor. Nor a rail line.
There are, however, a lot of local roads that need attention.
And so, if our area towns and villages decide to tap over the next two years into the state’s new, one-time local transportation grant program, those funds would probably be best spent maintaining and upgrading those.
Not seeking state money for dream initiatives.
The state’s Local Road Improvement Program grants initiative was created earlier this summer after a controversial partial budget veto by Gov. Evers. It allocates $75 million over the next two years, reduced by Evers from $90 million approved by the State Legislature, for a wide array of possible transportation projects. Roads. Bridges. Mass transit. Bike and pedestrian paths. Railroads. Harbors.
There was a lot of handwringing over that state transportation budget adoption, including significant concerns voiced by rural legislators about their districts getting a fair share of the $75 million. Not being elbowed out by real or perceived urban needs.
Legislators who supported the grants initiative, and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, have pledged that the grant funds will be equitably split. To wit, the budget officially divvied the dollars up: $26.7 million for counties; $19 million for cities and villages; and $29.3 million for towns.
We’ll see how that distribution plays out, especially in the cities-villages category, where perhaps the greatest potential for urban-rural inequity exists. Distribution inequity between rural and urban counties is also a concern.
Applicants would only be responsible for a 10 percent grant match; the state is pledging to cover 90 percent of the cost of approved projects. Which is significant. If you can snag a grant. Which is not guaranteed.
Luckily, this is only one pot of transportation money in the state biennial budget.
The one-time grants are in addition to about $400 million for state road projects included in the budget and a 10 percent increase in general transportation aids for local government.
So, all is not lost if the grants elude us here locally.
Will our local municipalities seek grants? And for what?
The possibilities are pretty wide open.
The state transportation grant program, can, for instance, cover projects like the proposed connector bike route between Cambridge and the Glacial Drumlin State Trail. A Cambridge ad hoc committee has already received a $209,000 Dane County matching grant that covers half of the anticipated engineering and construction cost for that. It’s an enticing thought, to ask the state to fund the rest.
But as much as l like the idea of being able to bike to Cambridge and back from my home in Deerfield and am eager to see that connector route completed I, like the rest of you, have to drive on our rural roads.
I’ve driven on them every day for more than 20 years and well know which ones are in okay shape, which ones to avoid on an icy day, and which ones have the eroded shoulders and deep potholes that continually pound the shocks and struts on my no-longer-new minivan.
On an August day, there is nothing more beautiful than taking a drive down a rural road. Especially on a road known only to locals. Until you pop a tire or break a strut.
What could the state buy us?
A downtown Cambridge trolley is fun to envision. For about thirty seconds. So too, is an hourly express bus connecting London and Rockdale. For about 15 seconds.
A Cambridge connector bike route? That one has actual potential.
But our roads have to come first.
And not just because they are important agriculture, commuter and emergency service routes.
Because we made the commitment to them a century ago. Named them after the founders of our communities and after treasured local geographical features. Oak Park Road. Liberty Road, after the beautiful, expansive Liberty Prairie many of our Norwegian ancestors settled on. Prairie Queen Road. Ripley Road.
There is deep meaning in our local road names. They are bedrocks of our rural history and culture. We need to keeping caring for them.
Here’s hoping local government officials, whose job it is to apply for and manage various incoming pots of road revenue, and who live and drive out here every day, remember that.
Before they jump on a key premise of the new transportation grants program, that approved projects must show local economic benefit.
And decide that downtown Cambridge or Deerfield would really, really economically benefit from a trolley.