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Horrible. That’s a common epithet applied by local drivers to their experience when driving La Crosse’s La Crosse Street. And it is. But for those of us who travel about Wisconsin, there are equally horrible driving experiences to be had on Wisconsin’s badly deteriorated roads.

Take Hwy. 173 from Hwy. 21 to the intersection with Hwy. 80 near Babcock, for example. Gretchen and I have been driving that 20-mile diagonal stretch for many years on our way to visit with family in Shawano northwest of Green Bay. The wild lands that the road traverses are beautiful at any time of year and the drive has become a favorite ... until recently.

On our most recent drive along the arrow-straight road, which was built on the bed of a former railway through the marshy terrain, we vowed we’d not drive it again until it gets fixed. Rutted with broken asphalt and scattered potholes, the time saved simply wasn’t worth the rattle and risk to vehicle and jangled nerves.

Dave Skoloda

Dave Skoloda

Asked in a telephone call about the condition of the highway, David Ohnstad, Monroe County highway commissioner, agreed that it was “pretty rough.” The county will be doing some temporary paver patching on its part of the route this summer. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation plans to improve 19.36 miles of the road through Monroe and Juneau counties in 2020, he said.

If there were unlimited resources available, the road may have already been done by now, Ohnstad said. More funding available to meet the many demands for road work would “certainly make (the improvements) more timely,” he added.

And there’s the rub that legislators and the governor are having now as the state budget nears completion: how to, as the governor put it recently, “fix the damn roads.”

For Hwy. 173, the cost is $7 million to $8 million for “milling and repaving the existing deteriorated pavement to improve safety and operations and extend the life of the existing roadway surface,” according to DOT handout prepared for a public information meeting earlier this year.

The 173 repair is but a drop in the bucket toward filling the needs of the state’s roads, according to a number of assessments that rank Wisconsin poorly among the states for its roads.

Six years ago, a legislative commission reported on its two-year study of the state’s transportation woes with a warning that “continuing the status quo level of investment will result in serious worsening in the condition and safety of state highways, increased urban highway congestion and reduced service levels for public transit.”

That recommendation included increasing a variety of user fees, including a 5-cent increase in the gas tax to pay for projects during the next decade. The recommendations went nowhere. Meanwhile, the state’s roads continued to deteriorate and Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature and the Republican governor kicked the can down the road and added to the size of the transportation funding debt, now some 25 percent of the transportation budget.

There was an election in 2018 and Gov. Tony Evers campaigned on fixing the state’s roads in part by raising the gas tax. He won that election. Yet the Republicans remain in denial about the outcome, and refuse to budge on a gas tax, the most reasonable, efficient way to provide long-term financing for roads and bridges.

Police and firefighters called on the Legislature last week to address Wisconsin’s road funding needs. Their association representatives said that the state’s poor road conditions were putting public safety at risk and urged a “common sense” solution.

Their press conference presentations made it clear that Hwy. 173 isn’t an isolated condition. Dane County Deputy Jim Brigham said poor road conditions on U.S. Hwy. 151 near Sun Prairie had caused hundreds of tire blowouts, some of which had caused accidents, according to an account on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Grant County Sheriff Nate Dreckman noted that his officers had to consider road conditions and their speed when picking a route to an emergency. Road conditions could delay their response, he said.

Republicans have responded with a funding proposal that relies heavily on increasing fees — both title transfer and registration — thus excusing out-of-state road users from shouldering part of the road costs. And their plan dodges a gas tax increase and its longer-term approach to the state’s transportation needs.

Evers said when he introduced his state budget that “The stakes are too high to ignore Wisconsin’s infrastructure crisis. It is time to stop kicking the can down the road.”

He’s right. It’s time to fund a fix for the damn roads. We can complain about paying more in gas taxes, but that’s the cost to correct the years of neglect demonstrated in roads like Hwy. 173. Republican legislators clearly don’t want to own up to the fact they had many years to fix the problem ... and didn’t.

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(7) comments

martian2

with a gas tax you get out of staters helping fund wisconsin road repair. That seems to be the most equitable and fair way to fund the roads, after all those out of state benefit from decent roads also. Too bad the republicans want to put the burden squarely on Wisconsinites only. Obstructionism is their game, always has been.

PhysicsIsFun

When all you care about is tax cuts and hurting public employees, this is what you get. Thanks Republicans.

Comment deleted.
PhysicsIsFun

So Ricky, Walker and the Republicans had 8 years with total control of the state, and they never bothered to fix the problem. Even Walker's head of the DOT resigned because he was so disgusted with the ineptitude demonstrated by the Republicans and Walker. Quit talking about what Doyle did. It is pretty irrelevant. Talk about how even now the Republicans refuse to solve the problem, because like you they blinded by their own stupidity. The fact that you think teaching AP Physics, Engineering Physics, and Honors Physics has anything to do with vinegar/soda volcanoes just shows how deficient your pathetic education is. Go study up on "righty tighty - lefty loosey" which is the most advanced topic you ever studied.

PhysicsIsFun

Actually Ricky I retired 13 years ago at age 58. I am older than you but I am also smarter than you. I say you're old because you sound like a bitter old man who has been a failure at life and is now mad at others. Take responsibility for your own shortcomings, and there are many. You sound like a complete lunatic. If you had any shame you would be embarrassed. If there are any people in the Czeczok family with a shred of intelligence they would take away your computer access before you permanently destroy your family's reputation.

martian2

why oh why tribune do you let this poor excuse of a person keep posting on these sites. Ricky/veteran is in serious need of help, like a padded room.

johnnybragatti

10/4 Marty !!! Ya"ll got the "little one",like zerokok ,who ,for all comparisons ,ain't much different than Dylan Roof, who he ,no doubt, writes to in prison? Why is he referred to as :"the little one"? No wonder he"s a hard-core Trump-Humper.Hard to fix insanity.

Comment deleted.
capedcrusader

How do you know that? Can you prove it?

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