Lack of state funding for roads causes issues at city level

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is rolling out its plan for the future as funding gets harder to come by. The department’s secretary was in La Crosse Tuesday listening to public comments and sharing his plan, and the list of needs isn’t a short one.

The struggle for funding across the state for road projects is no different in the Coulee Region. The Wisconsin DOT said there are a lot of roads that need work, but the funding isn’t there. Since there is a lack of funding at the state level, there is less funding at the city level.

After the long winter the Wisconsin DOT said the list of road construction projects has grown even larger.

“One example is the Highway 16 project we have going on this year. The joints on that section of pavement are kind of failing and that’s caused a lot by that freeze and thaw cycle,” Wisconsin DOT Project Development Chief Engineer Jim Rohe said.

But the list will continue to grow if the amount of funding for road construction doesn’t do the same.

“We feel like we’re at that point where we’re falling behind a little bit. If we don’t make a significant investment now the needs are going to get greater and greater and we just won’t keep up with the needs on the system,” Rohe said.

Since there is a shortage of funding at the state level, there is even less support given to municipalities.

“Back in 1988 when they started state transportation aids they funded about 24 percent of our local costs and now it’s down to about 13 percent,” Onalaska city engineer Jarrod Holter said.

The City of Onalaska said over the past five years its state transportation aid has gone down almost $100,000 and it’s starting to take its toll on city roads.

“We’ve seen our rating of our city streets in recent years go in a decline,” Holter said.

Now to maintain the roads means more money out of the city budget.

“If those transportation aids aren’t coming in and we want to keep the same level of service with streets and keep them in a very good manner of maintenance and upkeep, then we have to fund that with local tax dollars,” Holter said.

If something isn’t done, you’ll likely start noticing a bumpier ride on some roads.

“If we can’t make up the transportation aid difference that the state sends to us and we can’t raise the tax level or the citizens do not want to invest in it, then we have projects that just don’t get accomplished,” Holter said.

The city of Onalaska mentioned the number of riders using mass transit is continuing to grow, but that is another area where state funding continues to decrease.

The Wisconsin DOT said a gas tax used to provide funding for a lot of road projects around the state, but has since gone away. So they’re looking for other ways to make up for that lost revenue.