Boots & Sabers

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2147, 31 May 16

Fixing Wisconsin’s Transportation Infrastructure

Brian Fraley doesn’t offer any solutions yet, but he makes a compelling case for why conservatives need to lead the way on finding the solutions.

If we just continue to hold tight under the misguided notion of what is conservative and therefore don’t invest in resolving the current crisis, over the next decade there will be 250 fewer new road projects, 800 fewer miles of roads will be rehabilitated or improved (thus increasing the miles of poor roads by 81 percent). This means 26 percent of all highways in Wisconsin will be in poor condition by 2027.

Let’s be clear. These numbers are not some hype from the special interests, these numbers are the sober, honest analysis of Governor Walker’s Department of Transportation.

If Interstate projects are pushed back this far and our two lane highways in Wisconsin gradually succumb to being gravel roads, you can take all the ballyhooed economic development plans Wisconsin has for the next 25 years and kiss them goodbye. Wisconsin would be open for business, but getting your customers or your goods to and from here–well???

The fact is, our agricultural, manufacturing and tourism economies rely upon our roads. Their condition is a key component to Wisconsin’s overall economy.

Fraley is right that our transportation infrastructure is critical to the state’s economy and quality of life. He is also right that building and maintaining a quality transportation infrastructure is a primary function of government.

Here’s the problem… as defined, the problem is that the cost of our transportation needs are being outpaced by the money we have to pay for it. Any solutions to such a problem will have to include some combination of a reduction in the cost and an increase in the money (read: higher taxes). But even as the problem is framed, the idea is entertained that the cost may be too high, but then immediately dismissed, thus leading the audience to the inevitable solution: we need higher taxes.

The other problem is that I simply don’t trust the data. The road builders are a powerful interest group in Wisconsin. They own the Department of Transportation and have long held sway in both parties. Our last elected Republican governor, Tommy Thompson, was legendary in his willingness to spend money on roads. Doyle was just as bad, but preferred to tilt more toward public transportation. And Walker is proving to be every bit the spender in this regard as his predecessors. All of the data we see regarding the extent of the “crisis” and costs needed to resolve it come from the same people who have been screwing Wisconsin taxpayers for a generation or more.

As I wrote last year:

According to Reason’s Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems, which measures how much bang each state gets for their transportation buck, Wisconsin has jumped 10 spots to 15th place in the country since 2011, but it ranks 36th in spending per state-controlled mile. Wisconsin spends a whopping $226,901 per mile — way more than every other Midwestern state except Illinois. Iowa and Minnesota manage to spend less than $134,000 per mile.

Consider that if Wisconsin could reduce its spending per mile to just the same level as our neighboring states, there would be a surplus of transportation funding.

When considering that Iowa and Minnesota have very similar weather and stresses on the pavement, why does Wisconsin need to spend so much more per mile on roads? Until that conundrum is solved, I am not willing to consider more revenue for transportation. The solutions to this crisis can be found in the bloated costs that other states seem to be able to control.


2147, 31 May 2016


  1. Phil

    This guy doesn`t have the slightest clue when it comes to road construction. The reason Wisconsin`s cost per mile is so high is because they actually build their roads CORRECTLY. Most large road projects in many Midwestern states require the new roads to be repaired or redone within 5 years. In Illinois by the time you finish a road project you have to go back and repair the road you just finished. Ask any road worker who has worked in Wisconsin and surrounding states, they will tell you who is spending the money correctly.

  2. dad29

    Phil, using Illinois as an example is……not helpful to your cause. Illinois is a sanitary-sewer of corruption.

    Try Iowa and Minnesota instead. Do THEY have to rebuild their roads every 5 years?

  3. Brian (not Fraley)

    What Brian’s sponsors at the Roadbuilders Association don’t mention is that Northeastern Wisconsin has been absolutely raped by roundabouts. We need to slash the transportation budget until certain people get the message that raping our roads for their personal profit is unacceptable. We are spending too much on Wisconsin’s roads.

  4. Fraley

    So you trust a small libertarian foundation in California, but not your own auto repair bills, engineers, USDOT, the businesses and industry leaders in Washington County who say the roads are costing them money and preventing job growth or the WisDOT?

    We will never get to any solution until people admit our infrastructure is in crisis. I’m all for cost containment and prioritization, but we’ve already ‘kicked the can’ about as far down the road as we can. We’re going to get to a point where cascading road construction delays and scrapping of projects will force business relocation and force existing businesses to expand elsewhere.

    I appreciate the concern regarding the appearance of special interests lining up for more tax dollars. But talk to your local leaders and local businesses…Let me know what they say.

  5. old baldy


    A couple and questions:

    “the problem is that the cost of our transportation needs are being outpaced by the money we have to pay for it.” Why is that ?? Because the gas tax hasn’t been raised for years. More people are driving gas efficient vehicles, trucks are heavier, yet the revenue stream to do repairs has been cut off by politicians that must retain their anti tax/user fee resume.

    “..the problem is that the cost of our transportation needs are being outpaced by the money we have to pay for it…”. How do you propose to reduce the cost? Work on the US/and WI system are competitively bid. Bids are often within less than 1%. So how do you reduce costs? Reduce quality of design standards or materials? Remove or limit profit? Or the old stand-by, reduce wages of the employees?

    “I simply don’t trust the data”. Whose data would you trust? WDOT and FHWA are obsessed data. WDOT is run by a hand-picked walkerite, so why would you doubt he and his staff when they put together the estimates? Or don’t you trust anyone and just go with your gut on this one?

    “The road builders are a powerful interest group in Wisconsin. They own the Department of Transportation”. No more than WMC owns WEDC.There is a lot of money at stake, so why shouldn’t they have a lobby group? If you ever witnessed the interaction between a large contractor and WDOT staff you would never make such a statement. Now if you said that the road builders owned certain legislators (R or D, state or federal), then I would say you may be on the right track.

    Cost per road mile is a tricky way to look at things. Unless you have a completely fair-apples to apples- comparison those numbers are only a rough indicator of cost. If the WI versus MN or IA bothers you, look at level of service and ADT. That may be a big deal changer.

  6. Brian (not Fraley)

    Gosh, guys, I wonder if maybe DOT has a vested interest in higher taxes and more spending on the Road Builders (not the same thing as actual roads).

    Look, if we got the idea that our roads were actually improving, people might be receptive to more taxes. Instead, the most visible way people interact with Brian Fraley’s friends at the Road Builders Association is endless roundabout construction, repaved roads that were just repaved 1-2 years ago, pot holes that are never replaced, cones and barrels that go up for six months regardless of need, etc.

  7. old baldy

    brian (not fraley):

    “Look, if we got the idea that our roads were actually improving, people might be receptive to more taxes.”

    That is the old “which came first, the chicken or the egg” theory.

  8. Calvin and Hobbs

    Old baldy said: “trucks are heavier” got any proof of that? Last time weight limits for trucks were increased was the Surface Transportation Act of 1982.

    Here’s a couple of things to look at b/f raising taxes.
    > extend repeal of prevailing wage laws to include state work and ask for a 5 year exemption from the Davis-Bacon ( that depression era act needs to be repealed anyway) to get the most for out tax money spent. This would enable us to get real competition from road builders.
    > Limit gas taxes and fees to be spent on roads and bridges not Tommy’s trolley. If Barrett can give all 65+ seniors free bus rides they have to mush money.
    > repeal mandatory spending on “art projects” on each highway is rebuilt.
    > remove all “bike path” spending from transportation (put a use tax on each new bike to pay for them)

  9. old baldy

    c and h:

    Check the regs regarding vehicles hauling agricultural and forest products.

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