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No 'crystal ball' for future state funding for La Crosse County highways, commissioner says
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No 'crystal ball' for future state funding for La Crosse County highways, commissioner says

County highway funding

Signs guide motorists through a detour Wednesday on Highway F in La Crosse County at its intersection with Highwy FO. Officials realize that General Transportation Aid for 2021, funded through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, could be negatively impacted by the financial uncertainties from COVID-19.

The La Crosse County Highway Department has received a portion of the $1,777,117 it was awarded in annual state funding for 2020.

General Transportation Aid is funded through the state and Department of Transportation, and is awarded annually to municipalities based on population and expenditures. It helps pay for maintenance like filling potholes and plowing snow.

This year’s funding is up a bit from 2019, when the county received $1,624,912, but officials realize that 2021 could look different due to the financial uncertainties COVID-19 has brought.

Ron Chamberlain

Chamberlain

“I have no crystal ball on this one, and there’s definitely some concerns,” said Ron Chamberlain, the La Crosse County highway commissioner.

Chamberlain said that this annual transportation aid is funded through gas tax and vehicle registration fees each year.

“Fuel consumption has been down, gas tax revenue is down. How that balances out in the 2021 budget has yet to be seen,” Chamberlain said.

But state officials have made reassuring remarks that roads are a top funding priority.

“As our economy continues to recover from the effects of this pandemic, it is critically important for us to invest in our state’s infrastructure,” Gov. Tony Evers said in a release.

Chamberlain also noted that the county has received a “pile of money” this year.

The county highway department has already received more than $3 million in grants from the DOT and federal government for projects in 2021, which include replacing bridges over Halfway Creek and reconstructing a portion of Sand Lake Road.

Gov. Tony Evers

Gov. Tony Evers called a special session which began  Tuesday focusing on increasing special education funding and lowering property taxes.

And earlier this year, another state grant amounting to $314,997 was awarded to the county to rehabilitate three low-posted bridges.

“We’ve been very successful with our grant applications,” Chamberlain said.

Still, highway projects in the area are generally underfunded.

When planning for the 2020 capital plan, officials identified $125,997,561 in needed repairs for the county’s roads. But just $8,570,240 was approved for the budget, almost half of that supported through grants.

“There should definitely be more funding allocated toward highways. The county does the best that it can given the constraints that we are under,” Chamberlain said.

“We’ll never get everything we want done,” he added.

Both the 2021 capital project budget for the county and the awarding of state transportation aid will be announced in the fall.

“Fuel consumption has been down, gas tax revenue is down. How that balances out in the 2021 budget has yet to be seen.” Ron Chamberlain, La Crosse County highway commissioner

"Fuel consumption has been down, gas tax revenue is down. How that balances out in the 2021 budget has yet to be seen."

Ron Chamberlain, La Crosse County highway commissioner

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