Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year for Wisconsin families. The fall season is always a busy time for parents, teachers, and students because everyone is participating in numerous community activities. These demanding schedules create diverse challenges Wisconsin residents must tackle on a daily basis. One of the most important resources we need every day to accomplish our goals would be transportation. We rely on various sources of transportation to travel to school, work, stores, parks, and other locations throughout Wisconsin. With over 115,000 miles of roadways around the state, Wisconsin citizens and visitors depend on a reliable transportation system.
As a lifelong rural Lodi resident, I understand the importance of commuting to work and taking the kids to school safely. We are appreciative in the winter to see snowplows remove snow from the roads, and orange barrels in the summer with construction crews repairing or building new roadways. Like many Wisconsinites, I travel for business and running errands every day. Roads connect us to our families and activities in different cities, towns, and villages around the state and the rest of the nation. Without this essential infrastructure, our economy and way of life for current and future generations will be significantly impacted.
The value of transportation is well-known to most people because it is an integral part of Wisconsin’s culture. Nearly all local roads, including county, city, village, and town jurisdiction, represent 90 percent of all roadway miles in the state of Wisconsin. These roads represent 42 percent of the vehicle miles travelled throughout the state. Besides local roadways, state highways and bridges comprise Wisconsin’s backbone system, which carries 49 percent of all traffic and 70 percent of freight travel around the state.
This transportation network is primarily funded by the state motor fuel tax and vehicle registration fees. These two sources account for almost 90 percent of the state’s Transportation Fund and more than half of the entire Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) biennial budget. The significance of these two funding mechanisms are vital to the maintenance and development of local roads. Additionally, federal and bonded funds represent a majority of the remaining WisDOT budget, but these funding resources are used for mostly large interstate highway construction projects. In total, WisDOT dedicates over 85 percent of funding towards preservation-related improvements and less than 15 percent to new transportation expansion projects around the state.
While there is strong support for continued investment in Wisconsin’s transportation system, there is diverse debate on where the funding should come from. Road construction costs have increased dramatically over the past decade, transportation revenues have not grown at the rate of increased costs, and the political debate on this topic is very personal in every legislative district across the state. Cut waste, increase funding, and spend less are the most common responses legislators like myself have heard from constituents. A solution to Wisconsin’s transportation funding situation will take a combination of these three policy concepts. Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau identified cost saving and efficiency measures that should be implemented within WisDOT to cut governmental waste. Furthermore, for the past seven years, the Republican-controlled State Legislature has invested over $450 million dollars in new additional funding into the Transportation Fund and protected it with a constitutional amendment that prevents financial raids from future administrations. By reforming current WisDOT procedures now and not delaying current necessary infrastructure improvements, we can move forward in restoring our roadways at less cost to the Wisconsin taxpayers down the road.
When I became the Assembly Transportation Committee chairman, I made it one of my top legislative priorities to bring representatives from both sides of the aisle, vested stakeholders, WisDOT officials, local community leaders, and Wisconsin residents throughout the state to the table to discuss the current and future solvency of the Transportation Fund. I organized various meetings and ride-along events in my district to demonstrate the worn-downed condition of town, municipal, and county roads. These informational sessions were necessary to prove that rural roads are just as important to maintain as our state highway system. This hands-on, detailed analysis has been essential in creating multiple, effective policy options that meet two key goals. First, guarantee consistent, equally distributed, short and long-term funding streams to WisDOT and local governments. Road construction projects should be rated based on greatest need, present condition, and lifespan of the current infrastructure. Second, ensure the least amount of financial impact on Wisconsin families because residents are already taxed enough.
Wisconsin’s diverse transportation system makes this state one of the most incredible to live, work, raise a family, and retire in. As a legislator, farmer, and small trucking business owner, I have a personal stake in creating and ensuring a high-quality transportation system in this state. I travel on local town and municipal roads as well as state highways 16, 22, 33, 51, 60, and 113 through Lodi every week. I understand the great need for a dependable transportation system because it is a daily economic driver and public safety concern. Solving the transportation funding dilemma affects everyone including local governments, schools, businesses, residents, and tourism. Immense progress has been made with significant improvements in communicating local and state priorities within WisDOT, especially moving up road construction projects in Columbia County. Developing strong legislative support to cut governmental waste, ensures governmental efficiency; and will create steady funding solutions for Wisconsin’s local and state transportation network now and in the future.