State legislators should be getting an earful about bad roads and the need for a better transportation plan from municipal leaders throughout the state.
Aging roadways and culverts, a lack of money to fix them, political maneuvering, unfunded mandates and an onslaught of CAFO manure trucks in Southern Door that crush perfectly good roadways without accountability were just some of the issues that came out at the Door County Turnout for Transportation meeting on Sept. 27.
Initiated by the Transportation Development Association, similar meetings were held across the state at the same time for municipal officials to share road horror stories in their communities and learn about problems with the proposed Wisconsin Department of Transportation budget.
The ultimate goal, explained Door County Highway Commissioner John Kolodziej, is to develop a long-term sustainable solution to our transportation problems instead of the continued application of Band-Aids.
Kolodziej co-hosted the meeting with Roy Englebert, who was representing the Wisconsin Towns Association and who also serves as a county board supervisor and chair of the Town of Forestville.
The meeting was kicked off with a video presentation featuring the executive directors of the Wisconsin Towns Association, the Wisconsin County Highway Association and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities talking about the importance of the state’s roadways to economic development. They pointed out that under current funding structures, municipalities can’t afford to repair their roads, and for too long they’ve relied on patch jobs that are no better than “putting lipstick on the pig.” They added that this historic meeting being held at the same time in locations across the state was called to get the ears of legislators on this subject and come to a solution in the next budget “because there is a consensus that something needs to be done.”
After the video, Kolodziej said it was time to gather local stories about bad roads and “become the squeaky wheel in all of this.”
Kolodziej pointed out that in his directive to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in preparing its biennium budget, Gov. Scott Walker ordered no tax increases, while increasing local maintenance and general transportation aids.
The agency conformed to the governor’s directives and provided a budget that includes what was referred to as the good, the bad and the ugly:
- The good: Increased spending for local governments, although the increases in most cases are minimal. For example, the town of Forestville will see a $3,900 increase and Liberty Grove $9,000.
- The bad: No revenue enhancement to stabilize the state’s segregated transportation system fund and lower total spending for the two-year period, $6.5 billion versus $6.8 billion in the current budget. Kolodziej said Assembly leadership would like to generate revenues for the transportation fund but the Senate has been silent on the subject.
Englebert told the audience that the meeting had been called not to talk about solutions, but to air problems in individual municipalities. He began by talking about a problem his community began experiencing about 10 years ago with the expansion of CAFOs in neighboring Kewaunee County. With the constant flow of 80,000- to 100,000-pound semi-trucks carrying CAFO manure, roads that were in excellent shape and that should have had a long life ahead of them are now deteriorating due to the heavy traffic.
Englebert mentioned a half-mile road in Forestville that was destroyed in a day and a half when 22 semis were hired to haul 300 loads.
“The town board voted to make that a Class B road so they can only haul 48,000 pounds on it,” he said. “That’s the only thing we can do to help ourselves and protect our roads a little bit longer.”
Englebert told the group that “each semi does as much damage as 9,000 passenger cars.”
Asked if the truckers or CAFOs could be held accountable for repairing the roads they are ruining, Kolodziej said they would respond with “That’s why we are paying road taxes.”
Randy Halstead, a county supervisor and chair of the Town of Jacksonport, reported that his community is plagued with roads that are 40 and 50 years old and that now are breaking up and becoming potholed.
Steve Sohns, a county supervisor and member of the Gibraltar Town Board, said the big question in his community is what is underneath the roads. In Gibraltar’s case, he said old stone fences make up the road base.
Dan Cihlar, chair of the Town of Sturgeon Bay board, said the town’s annual $100,000 road budget is far short of what the town needs for road reconstruction. He said the last reconstruction the town did was the mile-long Ridge Road, and that took two years because the town could not afford to do the entire project in one year.
Bud Kalms, town clerk of Liberty Grove, said with 101 miles of road in the town, they are lucky to get a mile of road paved in a given year, adding that the extra $9,000 from the state will not amount to much. “It would be nice for something to happen here,” he said.
Josh VanLieshout, the City of Sturgeon Bay’s administrator, said this has been a painful issue for the city, especially since 2011 when the state disallowed municipalities from hiring county crews to do the work. Up until that time, VanLieshout said, “We were able to use the county to compete against our one private contractor.” He said since that happened, it drove the city’s street repair costs up “by a substantial margin.” He added that while the city has the ability to levy special assessments for road repairs, “doing it for streets is an unappealing and unattractive solution when everyone uses the streets. We’re stuck and we need some help.”
Englebert suggested that all the municipal officials in attendance take pictures of their bad roads and post the photos and stories online at the Transportation Development Association’s Just Fix It gallery (tdawisconsin.org/just-fix-it-wisconsin), and all were asked to contact their legislators about road funding woes.
Why the Freeways in SE Wisconsin Matter
- Southeast freeways are critical to statewide commerce and employment.
- Twenty percent of Wisconsin jobs are within two miles of one of the Southeast freeways corridor.
- Forty-three percent of the state’s cargo moves in and out of the region on those corridors.
- Modernizing the freeways will improve safety and reduce crashes by between 15 and 50 percent.
- These 60-year-old freeways are at the end of their useful lives. End-of-life patches will last only five to eight years, providing diminished returns.
- Delaying construction will cost more than $1 billion in additional maintenance costs and user delays.
- Eventually, these freeways will be reconstructed at a significantly higher cost.
Source: Transportation Development Association