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Transportation Budget: Fixing what we have
By Craig Thompson
Wisconsin Department of Transportation secretary-designee
Governor Evers ran on a promise to repair our deteriorating roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure. The governor made good on that promise by investing the greatest amount of new transportation spending in a generation. And that funding is being put to good use, helping the state, counties, municipalities and towns repair bridges and resurface roads from Marinette County in the northeast to Grant County in the southwest, and everywhere in between.
In 2020, we completed 375 projects in all corners of the state, staying on schedule during the pandemic. In fact, due to decreased traffic, we were able to finish many of these projects ahead of schedule and under budget.
While our commitment to bringing Wisconsin’s transportation system into the 21st Century hasn’t changed, conditions have. Wisconsin is only now beginning to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and our social and economic future is clouded in uncertainty. While reduced traffic led to significant reductions in transportation revenues, we at WisDOT acted early to tighten our belt and realize significant program savings. Those measures, along with the “backstop” funding state DOTs received this past month from the federal government, have allowed us to weather this crisis and stay on track.
Consequently, most spending in the proposed transportation budget is maintained at current levels. However, that doesn’t mean we are standing still. Wisconsinites will continue to depend on our transportation system more than ever before, not only to perform the daily activities of life, but to provide the springboard for our economic recovery.
For the second straight budget, Governor Evers’ administration prioritizes fixing what we have. The State Highway Rehabilitation Program, which provides funding for the state to repair our two-lane state highways and bridges, receives an increase of approximately $19 million in the biennium, and general transportation aid is up two percent in both 2022 and 2023.
In 2020, counties, towns, and cities expressed high praise for the Multimodal Local Supplement program for its flexibility and lack of red tape, which helped more communities fund vital local projects. That’s why we’re glad to see Governor Evers propose $75 million for this program in his budget. Without this initiative, the Multimodal Local Supplement program and its flexibility won’t exist.
The governor’s proposed budget also responds to the transportation needs of people and businesses that depend on mobility options other than roads and private vehicles. It increases funding for local transit systems, creates a $10 million fund for replacement of buses and makes it easier for transit systems to expand their boundaries and serve more people. There is no greater barrier to employment than not being able to get to work reliably.
This budget will help grow Wisconsin’s economy by providing transportation options that support businesses throughout the state and will attract the next generation of workers. It includes grants to improve Wisconsin’s harbors which open new markets for agricultural exports and supports waterborne freight. Provisions like support for electric vehicle charging stations and funding for critical infrastructure will address climate change by reducing Wisconsin’s carbon footprint.
And we will do the vital work of modernizing the arterial highways that carry the bulk of the state’s people and goods, by enumerating the I-94 East West Corridor project near American Family Park. Just as local roads are the first and last mile of every trip, our Interstate and state highways connect businesses and people, all over the state, with the nation and the world.
While the budget does include a modest increase in bonding to continue the progress we are making, bonding for transportation in Wisconsin is still at historic lows compared to previous administrations.
The pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. What hasn’t changed is our reliance on a safe, efficient and accessible transportation system. The proposed 2021-23 budget makes smart spending decisions while continuing to repair the transportation system that will move our Wisconsin economy forward.