New Investment in Our Roads and Bridges
When it comes to natural beauty, Wisconsin is second to none. Thousands of miles of rivers and streams, abundant lakes, forest and wildlife, along with four wonderful seasons draw visitors from all over. While Wisconsin is a great place for a scenic drive, some of the very things that bring folks to our state also create some major challenges for maintaining our highways and roads.
Take our rivers, streams and lakes as an example. In Wisconsin, getting from one place to another often means crossing over water. The bridges we use to do that aren’t cheap to build or maintain. And what about our four wonderful seasons? Cold winters cause the ground under our roads to freeze. A quick change in temperature in spring means roads shift as the ground becomes soft and wet. Add some weight from passing cars and trucks and the change in season can cause some serious damage to our roads. In addition, beautiful farmland and abundant forests mean our roads get regular use not just by cars, but by the heavy machinery that fuels our agriculture and logging industries, all of which adds up to quite a bit of wear and tear to our roads and bridges.
To help tackle some of these challenges, our current state budget increases local road and bridge aids to their highest levels in 20 years. The nearly $87 million increase includes an extra $20 million for Wisconsin’s Local Bridge Improvement Plan, allowing 113 bridges across Wisconsin to be repaired or replaced. In fact, our budget invests more than $6 billion into our transportation system, bringing total investment over the last eight years to $24 billion. That’s $3 billion more than the state spent on transportation in the previous eight years combined.
On top of that, in June we received the largest federal transportation aid package in state history, more than $227 million - $67.4 million more than we expected. Because of this surplus, we set aside $38.6 million to approve all 70 remaining bridge projects in counties across Wisconsin. 58 of the 183 bridge projects are in our area, including 10 bridges in Clark County and 18 in Trempealeau County. Dunn County has 7 bridge projects, 13 in Marathon County, and Chippewa, Wood, Eau Claire and Jackson Counties will have 10 projects completed in the near future.
It is important to maintain our roads and bridges, but it is also important to do it in a fiscally responsible way. We have worked hard to get our state finances in order and going on a reckless spending spree would undo a lot of hard work. Fortunately, borrowing for roads is the lowest since the 2001-2003 budget. In fact, our long-term debt is some of the lowest in the country, and we’re paying it down faster than we take on new debt. Because of our careful financial management, last year three national credit agencies upgraded our bond rating, one for the first time since 1973 and the other for the first time ever.
While most of our transportation spending is critical and helps us maintain our roads and overcome Wisconsin’s specific transportation challenges, some transportation spending just isn’t necessary. In order to ensure that your tax dollars are being spend wisely, I supported an audit of our state transportation fund. Through bureaucratic reforms, cutting unneeded positions, and ensuring our state gets the best deal on labor, we uncovered enough savings to move 26 different road projects forward, including projects in Clark and Dunn Counties.
We’ve come a long way since the days when Governor Doyle raided the transportation fund to pay for other projects, but there is still more work to be done, especially on our rural roads. So, as you pile into your car for one last summer road trip to enjoy the natural beauty that Wisconsin has to offer, the good news – and the bad news- is that with our investments in transportation you’re probably going to run into construction. Whether you are dodging orange barrels or not, make sure you get out and enjoy the last days of summer in the most beautiful state in the country.