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Rough Roads Tour

West Salem School Superintendent Troy Gunderson talks to La Crosse County Supervisor Maureen Freedland and Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen on County Road XX during a stop on a tour of La Crosse County's worst roads Tuesday. The event, organized by the Transportation Development Association, was designed to highlight the shortfalls in state transportation funding. 

WEST SALEM — About two dozen local officials bounced around some of the county’s bumpiest roads Tuesday in a West Salem school bus to highlight a problem most users know all too well.

The bus, carrying county, city, town and school leaders, headed out of West Salem on County Road M, which La Crosse County has identified as in need of repair.

“I can’t tell you when we’re going to do it,” said Highway Commissioner Ron Chamberlain. “We haven’t identified a funding source.”

With more than $100 million in identified needs and a budget of just $6.5 million, Chamberlain said the county has been creative in searching out grants and other alternate funding sources.

“We have turned over about every rock there is to turn over,” he said.

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Ron Chamberlain

Chamberlain

But it only goes so far.

Rough roads aren’t just an inconvenience, according to the Transportation Development Association: They cost time and put increased wear and tear on vehicles.

With just 1,500 miles, the Thomas bus is the district’s newest, but transportation director Rick Kline said keeping it rolling for the next two decades is a bigger challenge with today’s roads, which take their toll on tires and suspensions, not to mention lights and mirrors that get bounced off or thermal paned windows that cost $60 to $150 to replace.

“It’s pretty tired by the time it reaches that,” Kline said.

Last year state legislators approved an extra $40 million in aid for counties and municipal governments, the largest bump Chamberlain can remember. The county’s portion of that was enough to pave a quarter-mile of road.

“The reality is, it’s not significant,” Chamberlain said.

For town governments, the situation is even more dire. Farmington town Chairman Mike Hesse has a budget of just $117,000 to maintain some 40 miles of road. To replace a single bridge with something wide enough to accommodate modern farm equipment could cost up to $90,000.

“Structures like this we just have to live with,” he said.

Tuesday’s bus ride was the first of several such tours planned by the Transportation Development Association, an alliance of local government, businesses, road builders and other stakeholders.

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Craig Thompson mug

Craig Thompson is executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.

TDA executive director Craig Thompson said the problem has grown worse since 2006, when Wisconsin lawmakers stopped adjusting the gasoline tax — one of the two main sources of transportation funding — to keep pace with inflation. And thanks to past borrowing, 18 cents of every transportation dollar now goes to pay back those loans.

At the same time, the nation’s interstate highway system is fast approaching the end of its 50-year useful life, putting an extra strain on those limited resources.

The TDA favors raising the gas tax and registration fees.

“The solution has to come from the state,” Thompson said. “There’s no way these communities are going to be able to solve it.”


Chris Hubbuch can be reached at 608-791-8217. Follow him on Twitter @chrishubbuch.

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Reporter

Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things.

(6) comments

kingman10

the article is about country roads and what bad shape they are in. The county however has plenty of money to build a new highway shop in St. Joe's ridge, and has plenty of money to help redo a stretch of highway they did last year in Holmen and messed it up. I say its time to get rid of this highway commissioner, who seems inept in managing the departments funds to get the most for our roads. The state needs to step up and quit the corporate welfare stuff and help get our infrastructure up to date.

markeugene

Jackson St./State Rd. and La Crosse St. are among the worst.

Grand Dad's Bluff

Not sure why maintaining roads has become such a dilemma for government in recent years, we have had paved roads for the last 125 years. We reached peak car utilization in the year 2007, going forward our nation is largely a road maintainer, not a road builder. We might make it an objective to get good at it.

Jobaba

You must be high. The state's roads suck! However, we do not want a gas tax or a wheel tax or any tax. And having a gerrymandered Republican government makes it clear that we don't want a tax and we can have everything our hearts desire for free! The GOP told us so. I am willing to drive on gravel and mud...no I will walk on gravel and mud just to see how we can have it all for free. So go ahead Scoot, give all the tax dollars to big companies. The rest of us will be OK.

DMoney

I don't care what "rankings" are given--our roads are in equal or usually better condition than roads in most states. That includes states in all areas of the country. I have travelled over many of them for work, and I look forward to returning to our "terrible" road network every time.

Rick Czeczok

No I don't believe the problem is funding shortfalls, more like very ignorant spending of funds available. Call it like it is.....

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