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.
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.