By Craig Thompson, TDA Executive Director
Note: This item also ran this week in following publications: Fond du Lac Reporter, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Janesville Gazette, Manitowoc Herald Times, Marshfield News Herald, Oshkosh Northwestern, Sheboygan Press, Stevens Point Journal, Sun Prairie Star, and Wisconsin Rapids Tribune.
The state of transportation in Wisconsin is not as strong as it needs to be.
I am not alone in this assessment. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance released a 2015 report card for Wisconsin in which it graded 23 different areas of the state from per capita personal income to energy costs to graduation rates. The area that received the worst grade was the condition of our highways, in which Wisconsin received a “D” grade.
The state’s roads are lacking by comparison as well. The U.S. Department of Transportation posted a fact sheet titled Road and Bridge Data by State, which shows 71% of Wisconsin’s roads are in mediocre or poor condition. That places Wisconsin 47th out of 50 states.
So what if our roads are a little bumpy to drive over and hard to look at, you might say. We have more important things to tend to like creating jobs.
Well, if we want to attract and retain businesses that create jobs, we are likely neglecting their number-one priority. In a national survey of CEOs and consultants ranking factors for choosing where to locate, access to highways scored as the most important factor (a skilled workforce ranked number two). It’s no wonder when you consider the fact that transportation comprises 50% to 80% of supply chain costs.
Why are we faring so badly when it comes to our roads? At the local level, cities, towns, and counties are able to repair and replace fewer miles of road each year due to stagnant state funds. In many instances, replacement schedules now exceed twice the number of years for which the roads were engineered. As for our major highways, some of our most pressing improvement projects continue to be delayed and shelved for the same reason.
Enough of the doom and gloom. The good news is that unlike eradicating poverty or finding peace in the Middle East, this problem is completely within our control. All it requires is some proactive leadership.
Now is the time to tackle this issue. Lower gas prices have saved the average two-car household over $1,000. We can put Wisconsin transportation back on a sustainable funding path while still leaving most of those dollars in the motorists’ pockets.
Wisconsin has long provided a value to drivers — lower combined gas tax and vehicle registration fees — when compared to neighboring states. We can modernize our system and provide mobility options without jeopardizing this advantage.
We can most certainly do better than a “D.” All this requires is the resolve to address the problem. Let’s just fix it.