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Frustrated by the Wisconsin legislature’s unwillingness to provide adequate transportation funding, local governments are preparing to take their case to the public by highlighting some of their worst crumbling roads and bridges.

A joint campaign of the Transportation Development Association and the state’s municipal governments, “Just Fix It,” was rolled out Tuesday at the annual convention of the Wisconsin Counties Association in La Crosse.

Wisconsin faces a projected funding shortfall of more than $15 billion over the next decade just to maintain the current transportation system, but TDA executive director Craig Thompson said big numbers aren’t effective in getting attention.

“Sometimes what we need beyond the numbers and the data is what’s behind that,” he said. “We may not always believe the numbers, but we know what we drive over.”

Thompson showed a slide of a Washburn County bridge with concrete crumbling to expose rebar.

“We’re better than this,” he said.

Another slide showed alligatored pavement on La Crosse County Highway YY, a 41-year-old stretch of road that isn’t scheduled for resurfacing until 2020 — if the county can come up with the money.

Even a decade beyond its expected life, it’s not the county’s worst highway, said highway Commissioner Ron Chamberlain. More than half of the 285 miles of county roads are in need of replacement: HD, DS, SN, B, J, PI, TT, GI, N, H.

“You can just about go through the alphabet,” Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain estimates the county has about $90 million in current needs. Last year’s budget was about $5.68 million.

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“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Chamberlain said, noting that roads continue to deteriorate — even faster because the county can’t afford the proper maintenance to make them last 30 years.

All told, local governments are responsible for more than 100,000 miles of roads, which cost upwards of $400,000 per mile to replace. The state is responsible for another 11,800 miles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates 70 percent of the state’s roads are in mediocre to poor condition. Only Illinois and Connecticut rank lower.

“I think you’re really seeing it at all levels,” Thompson said. “There’s towns that have replacement schedules of never.”

Thompson traces the problem to 2005, when the state stopped raising the gas tax with inflation. Local governments have stepped in, but with new state-imposed levy limits, Thompson said, “there’s no more room for them to go.”

Thompson said overwhelming voter approval of a 2014 referendum preventing the legislature from raiding the transportation fund was a tremendous victory.

But the momentum did not carry through the 2015 budget process, which he called “a tremendous missed opportunity.”

Gov. Scott Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion; lawmakers authorized up to $850 million but didn’t make up the difference.

Using what Thompson called a grassroots campaign, TDA — with help from county, municipal and town government organizations — will highlight some of the state’s worst roads in an effort to turn attention to the issue before the 2017 budget cycle.

There is no shortage of data or studies, Thompson said, just money.

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(10) comments

Teatotaler

The county spends $160,000,000.00 on stuff and only allocates $1.6 million of that for roads. That's idiotic! We aren't going to let you steal MORE of our earnings. It's time to spend the already stolen funds more appropriately.

Instead of social-engineering schemes to get people to paint houses or to get people to stop vaping, let's first pave the friggin roads.

tRu

What do you not understand about your constant desire for newer and faster roads and your neverending thirst for suburban expansion? Do you think roads are free and last forever? Do you think if we magically rebuild them all now we won't be in the exact same position in 15 years?

LesTrafik

“Replacement” is serious business-- as in the asphalt & entire underlying substructure which caused the road to fail in the first place.

Which leads me to a point of contention: when will county’s start seeking retribution from corn growers who—with their plows-- assist in premature failure of road by obliterating ditches in public rights-of-way and drainage easements?

LesTrafik

Get what you pay for. Some serious neglect toward local infrastructure; our state has suffered from Walker’s antics for personal gain.

Might as well add any road to the To-Do List that outlived its useful life; for example: roads with narrow or no shoulders that drop abruptly off into steep ditches, serving no useful purpose to adjacent subdivisions or drivers that use them. As bad pavement is dangerous to drivers, so are the increased conflicts with ie pedestrians that they attempt to avoid near developed areas.

YellowBee

Here's a thought......Let's put up some toll booths near the borders and use that money to fix the roads. Jackson Co. has the worst roads by far.....Hwy 27 north of Sparta is fine until you hit Jackson Co......then look out.

Mack

Just think what we could have done with the 2 or 3 Trillion dollars spent on the Iraq war? Maybe we are getting what we deserve?

First base

The wonderful Bucks needed the new arena.

Cassandra

Which will have to be replaced in 20 years (or less) because it will be obsolete. And then we'll still be driving on crumbling bridges and decaying roads.

capedcrusader

Well Walker should concentrate on rebuilding the roads instead of his image. He and the Koch brothers need to get their priorities straight. Their #1 priority is union busting.

sylvester

Roads in Wis are crumbling while money is going to the bucks.

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