State official says there is enough funding to repair roads, local officials disagree

La Crosse County representatives said more funding is needed to make road repairs, despite a top state official saying otherwise. Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Dave Ross stopped in La Crosse on Tuesday to talk about infrastructure funding.

One of the main projects discussed during the meeting at the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce is the need to repair La Crosse Street. Some expressed frustration that the project needs to be completed earlier than its slated date, which is in 2025.

“These streets really can’t wait,” said one forum attendee.

During the meeting, the WisDOT secretary emphasized that the La Crosse Street project is part of a state plan. Ross said, so far, there’s no funding for it, and the only way to expedite the repairs would be to have the project removed from the plan, but legislators would have to do that.

Ross also said that if major projects, such as the Milwaukee to Illinois border corridor, are completed quickly, there could be some savings.

“As those projects drop off and we complete them once and for all, funds could be used for other activities across the state,” Ross said.

Ron Chamberlain, highway commissioner for the La Crosse County Highway Department, said he respectfully disagrees.

“There are way too many needs, and frankly, not enough money to go around,” Chamberlain said.

That includes for La Crosse County, he said.

“The 2018 capital improvement plan identified $101 million worth of road and bridge needs,” Chamberlain said.

That’s why the county is putting four questions on ballot in November to show the state Legislature how people want the roads to be paid for.

“We’ve been creative. We’ve been innovative at finding grants and doing some longer-term borrowing. It’s not a sustainable approach,” said Tara Johnson, chair for the La Crosse County Board.

The state transportation budget will be released in November, but that doesn’t help local leaders already trying to plan for 2019.

“In the meantime, county, towns, cities, villages, school districts– they’re all trying to figure out budgets,” Johnson said.

Both Johnson and Chamberlain said more conversation is needed to better prioritize and fund these projects. The secretary for Wis DOT said that the issue of La Crosse street is very complicated, but he is going to review what repairs can be made in the interim.