THE ANNOUNCEMENT was not unexpected, but that certainly did not make it any easier to take.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation sees years of delays ahead in the crucial widening project for Interstates 39/90 between the state line at Beloit and Madison. Various bridge work and ancillary construction continues, but the actual widening has become a casualty of Madison’s inability to find a proper solution for deep funding problems.
In the last budget cycle Gov. Scott Walker called for borrowing well over a billion dollars to pay for road work, which was a bad idea. The legislature balked and, arguably, made it worse by just rolling back not only the borrowing but also the work load. Putting off critical infrastructure projects will just make it more expensive in the future, and so will borrowing the money.
IT”S TIME FOR WISCONSIN to get serious about finding a sustainable way to pay for necessary infrastructure projects. At least twice the Department of Transportation has delivered sensible policy solutions, only to have the plans summarily tossed in the trash because enhancing revenue does not fit the ideological narrative for the governor and the Republican-controlled legislature.
But badly deteriorating roads do not serve the narrative of a state that’s “open for business.” Whether it’s companies needing to move product or raw materials, or Chicago tourists aiming to drive to Wisconsin destinations, the quality of highways and back roads matters. Arguably, billions of dollars worth of business for Wisconsin could be adversely impacted if the state refuses to find reasonable ways to pay for transportation needs.
Stubbornness may look fiscally wise in the short run, but the long-term costs will only rise.
THERE ARE MANY WAYS to bring additional dollars to transportation, from nudging the fuel tax up a bit to charging more for licenses and registration to, yes, tolling on the key interstates crossing the state.
Nothing should be off the table. Everything should be considered as Wisconsin looks for the right mix.
The two choices we’ve seen so far — borrow too much or just kick the work and maintenance down the road, so to speak — is senseless. Wisconsin needs good roads. And Wisconsin needs to pay for them.
The governor is back in the state after a prolonged absence chasing the White House. His party controls all the levers of power. so finding a workable solution that doesn’t delay key projects — the I-39/90 delay is a blow to economic development in Beloit and elsewhere — ought to be do-able.