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Dec 14, 201209:50 AMTransportation Matters

with Debby Jackson

Peter, Paul, and Annie: State’s transportation budget won't fix itself

Peter, Paul, and Annie: State’s transportation budget won't fix itself

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As Gov. Walker works on putting his next two-year state budget together, he has asked each of his cabinet members to submit a proposal based on a 0% increase for their respective departments. Makes sense. At least start from that premise and then see what adjustments are necessary. Right? Well, the Department of Transportation followed directions and submitted its no-increase budget. It is definitely instructive.

For all of you out there who have convinced yourselves that there is plenty of money in Wisconsin’s transportation fund to meet our needs if we simply concentrate on maintaining what we have, you need to read this proposal. Simply put, you are delusional.

WisDOT’s proposed budget freezes aids to locals at current levels. Transit is frozen at current levels. The Local Road Improvement Program is cut by $10.6 million. It slashes the amount for major highway improvements by over 35% and reduces the amount available for the rehabilitation of state highways by nearly 10%. As far as maintaining what we have at the state level, WisDOT estimates nearly a quarter of the state highway system will be in “poor or below” condition at the end of the biennium.

According to the WisDOT budget submittal, the cut to the major highway program will result in the following project delays:


Project Name




One-year delay


Verona Road (Stage 1)

One-year delay


STH 76 – New London

One-year delay


STH 67 – USH 41

One-year delay


Lake Delton – Sauk City

Two-year delay


Verona Road (Stage 2)

Two-year delay


CTH CB – Oneida Street

Two-year delay


Brown & Winnebago Counties

$25 million shift from FY14 to FY15


US 12 – Illinois State Line

$50 million shift from FY 17 to FY18

Directly below this chart in the WisDOT budget request is this one-sentence caveat: “If these reductions are not restored in the 2015-17 biennium, the above changes will hold and the HWY 39/90 project will be delayed 2 years.” Allow me to translate that sentence for you. The delays listed on the right side of the table are based upon the belief that, to quote Annie, “The sun will come out tomorrow.” I think the more accurate description is, unless there is legislative action to increase funding for transportation, the delays will be “indefinite.” If we don’t have the political will to increase the funding this biennium, what leads us to believe it will be different in the next?

And what about the Zoo, the busiest interchange in our state? Under WisDOT’s proposal, it is still a top priority, but funding for that project is reduced by $300 million, which will push completion back at least two years. Again, this delay assumes “a significant funding increase will be needed in the 2015-17 biennium.”

Funding for these important projects is unlikely to just appear. Unlike the general fund, even an economic boom will not change the picture in the transportation fund in any significant way. Revenues from gas taxes and registration fees do not correlate to economic activity in the same way as sales and income tax revenues. So while the general fund situation has improved with an uptick in the economy, the transportation fund has not been so fortunate, nor will it be in the future without legislative action.

Communities across the state are unhappy – to say the least – with the reported delays to projects they view as critical to their local economy. Unfortunately for them, these expected delays may be the best-case scenario. The only way to move up one project’s timeline without increased funding will be to win a political power play at the expense of another project in some other area of the state or another sector of the transportation fund like local aids or transit.

As the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission gets ready to submit its recommendations and the governor and Legislature prepare to debate the upcoming budget, there will be plenty of people decrying any suggested increases in funding whether through transportation user fees or by dedicating some level of general fund dollars. That is fine. Budgets are about debating and deciding upon priorities.

But it is impossible for anyone to pretend any longer that failing to address the state’s stagnant transportation fund won’t have a real and noticeable impact on communities across the state. I would further argue that the upside of maintaining our system while keeping these projects moving forward far outweighs the extra $10 or so a month it would cost us.

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About This Blog

 Debby Jackson assumed the role of executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin after more than 15 years with the organization. In addition to her vast experience in association management and transportation advocacy, Jackson has a background in business. She leverages the breadth and depth of her professional experience, along with her knowledge of the membership and mission of TDA, to be a strong voice for robust transportation infrastructure in Wisconsin. Jackson started her career as a staff auditor with Price Waterhouse, which led to a series of accounting and corporate management positions with a major national retailer.

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