Governor Scott Walker proclaimed August 18 - 24 Wisconsin Ports Week. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin teamed up to promote, educate and celebrate the network of ports that contributes to the state’s economy, environment and quality of life.
"Shipping on the Great Lakes and Mississippi River is critical to the overall success of Wisconsin's multi-modal transportation network," said Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb. "Since 1980, the state has invested over $114 million in more than 80 public and private port improvement projects through our Harbor Assistance Program. It helps keep our economy growing and moving forward."
Each year, Wisconsin’s 29 commercial ports handle more than 30 million tons of cargo and provide an important transportation alternative for the movement of goods and bulk commodities. The goods passing through Wisconsin ports annually generate over $1.6 billion in economic activity, and support almost 10,000 jobs. Ports are also used as hubs for passenger transportation (ferries) and for several recreational activities.
"The timing is perfect to bring more public attention to Wisconsin’s ports, as a multiagency project team is working to determine how to best leverage our comparative advantage of marine freight transportation,” explained Ernest Perry, Program Manager at the National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (CFIRE). "The focus of our project is on strategic port development, and to better assess the market and infrastructure conditions across both the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes systems. Importantly, the project brings together all the partners who have unique, yet complimentary perspectives, on the state’s ports. Our end goal is to have a clear vision for the future direction and role of ports and marine freight in Wisconsin and to ensure we have the needed industry input and relationships, as well as policies and support, to enable increased freight movement across Wisconsin waters and ports.”
This year, Wisconsin Ports Week coincided with the Wisconsin Commercial Ports Association Annual Meeting and Conference, which was held August 21 – 22 in Green Bay. Governor Scott Walker addressed participants and presented the proclamation to port representatives in attendance. Senator Tammy Baldwin also participated in the event.
Wisconsin Ports Week Links
This November we will have the opportunity to vote on more than just candidates for federal, state, and local races. We will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that would require that gas tax and vehicle registration fee dollars remain in the transportation fund to be used to pay for the transportation system we use every day.
Why is this question on the ballot? Well, many of you probably remember that we went through nearly a decade in which the legislature and governor diverted about $1.4 billion from the transportation fund to try to fill holes in the state’s general fund.
Not shockingly, the let’s-try-to-get-through-today-in-the-least-painful-way-possible approach has had less-than-stellar long-term ramifications. We largely issued bonds to repay the money that was taken out of the transportation fund because our constitution does allow you to bond for capital improvements like roads and bridges but not for the ongoing operations of the state. They were generally 10- to 20-year notes. I can’t tell you what the exact interest rate is on those notes because they have been subsequently refinanced and rolled in with other debt, but it’s safe to say that the state will be using general tax dollars to pay debt service on this for years to come. That is money that will not go to K-12 education or shared revenues for locals or whatever.
In fact, this use of one-time monies out of the transportation fund earned Wisconsin dubious notoriety at the national level. In 2009, the Pew Center on the States issued a report titled “Beyond California. States in Fiscal Peril.” Here’s what the center had to say: “Our report states that California’s budget problems are in a league of their own. But Wisconsin has had persistent budget shortfalls — the state has had a negative general fund balance from fiscal years 2002-2008, according to its own Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports. Additionally, Wisconsin has used short-term fixes to meet budget challenges, such as relying on its transportation fund to cover day-to-day operating expenses.”
But let’s not dwell on the past. The positive thing going forward is that the legislature, in a refreshingly bipartisan way, has given us the ability to take this option off the table. That is no small feat. In order to get this question placed on the November ballot, both the state Assembly and Senate had to pass the exact same joint resolution, without amendment, in two consecutive legislative sessions. They did that. So when we step into the voting booth on Nov. 4, there will be a question on the ballot that will read:
Creation of a Transportation Fund.
Shall section 9 (2) of article IV and section 11 of article VIII of the constitution be created to require that revenues generated by use of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund administered by a department of transportation for the exclusive purpose of funding Wisconsin’s transportation systems and to prohibit any transfers or lapses from this fund?
If more than 50% of us vote yes, the constitution will be amended, making it unconstitutional to spend our gas taxes and vehicle registration fees on anything other than the maintenance and upkeep of Wisconsin’s transportation system.
In a recent poll, we asked Wisconsinites if they support changing the state constitution to require that transportation revenues, such as gas tax and vehicle registration fees, be used only for transportation.
Seventy-five percent said they support such a change. They also told us they view this simply as common sense.
Those who did not support the change may be questioning whether we really need to amend the state constitution to achieve this goal. My answer to them is that we most certainly do. And legislators themselves have apparently acknowledged what many of us have discovered over the years. The best way to avoid temptation is to remove it.
If you are dieting and you have a soft spot for potato chips (Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar are the best), then make sure you don’t have them around the house. I even have science on my side. According to Medical News Today, “Precommitment, defined as ‘the voluntary restriction of access to temptations,’ is a ‘more effective self-control strategy than willpower,’ say researchers from the Universities of Cambridge in the UK and Dusseldorf in Germany, in a report published online in the journal Neuron.”
In fact, most of our neighboring states as well as the majority of states in the U.S. have already helped their elected officials “precommit” by constitutionally restricting the use of transportation user fees.
All joking aside, this is an important issue for the future of our transportation system in Wisconsin. While this constitutional amendment will not solve all of our transportation funding woes, it will restore the faith of users of the system.
Our elected officials have given all of us the opportunity to fix this situation. On Nov. 4, we simply need to vote YES for Transportation.
If you want to find out more about this, you can go to VoteYes forTransportation.com. If you really like what you see, you can order yourself a Vote Yes for Transportation bumper sticker.
In addition to serving as executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, Craig Thompson is also secretary for the referendum committee Vote Yes for Transportation.
Earlier this month, WisDOT unveiled its latest measurement tool as part of its ongoing effort to provide empirical data on how they are doing in meeting transportation needs in Wisconsin. The first “Travel Time Reliability and Delay” report details travel time and travel daily data for urban and rural corridors throughout Wisconsin.
The report shows that during a one-year period, drivers in Wisconsin experienced a total of 7.4 million hours of traffic delay with a corresponding cost of $226.5 million. According to WisDOT, there were some slight improvements in hours of delay statewide when comparing spring 2013 with spring 2014.
The report uses recorded traffic data to measure the extra time motorists must plan in their trips to ensure they will arrive at their destination on time. Segments with high multiples of peak vs. normal-travel time are considered “unreliable.”
WisDOT is currently studying potential improvements to relieve congestion on two of the most congested segments in the Milwaukee region: I-94 between the Marquette Interchange and the Zoo Interchange and I-43 between Silver Spring Drive and Highway 60. Click here to see a map of the most congested areas in Milwaukee and Madison.
This reliability tool is the latest measurement to be added to the MAPSS Improvement program. MAPSS stands for mobility, accountability, preservation, safety and service. According to WisDOT: “The Wisconsin Department of Transportation MAPSS Performance Improvement program focuses on the five core goals and associated performance measures that guide us in achieving our mission ‘to provide leadership in the development and operation of a safe and efficient transportation system.’ Establishing goals and measuring results is essential to running a successful and efficient organization and meeting public expectations.”
MAPSS currently measures things like the wait time at the DMV, access to transit, on time performance for highway projects, on budget performance for highway projects, incidence response time and many others.