Numbers, numbers, numbers


January always gets me thinking about numbers. Perhaps it’s from ytears of preparing and presenting year-end reports to radio listeners (in a younger life) or to boards of directors (in When the calendar says it’s January, I automatically start to tally things up. You can learn a lot from numbers.

One very enlightening number that I heard this month is $1,466,370,391, followed by the number 1,596. $1.47 billion is the total amount needed to fund each of the 1,596 transportation projects that have been submitted by cities, villages, towns and counties in response to a one-time grant program created by the Wisconsin Legislature and managed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The “Multimodal Local Supplement” (MLS) grant was created by lawmakers who were being told that local transportation systems were in need of catching up after years of deferred repairs. It was funded with $75 million. Demand has exceeded available funding by over 1,800-percent.

As expected, roads make up the dominant share of the applications. Roads are at the top of most local priority lists, although there are also important harbor and bus-related requests. Bicycle and pedestrian applications account for roughly 3.5% of the total. It’s too soon to say what the final “mix” of projects actually funded by the department will look like.

Review committees made up of local transportation experts are poring over the hundreds of requests now. They have the unenviable job of recommending which ones should be funded. Pity them. The reality is that there will be more applications rejected than will be funded. At most a few hundred projects will be funded out of the 1,596 requests. Good, necessary projects will be left behind.

Wisconsin has known that its transportation system had some cracks and was suffering deferred maintenance. In addition to providing a needed shot in the arm for local public works budgets, these January numbers give us a glimpse of just how far behind we are. Wisconsin now has a 1,596-page catalog of local transportation needs. We obviously still have some work to do.

I don’t want to close this column on a “downer.” The Governor and Legislature deserve credit for making a significant investment in transportation funding (for all modes) in the most recent state budget. The $75 million one-time MLS grants will provide very important relief. We can complain that it’s not enough, but let’s not forget that it’s not just about roads. It’s not easy to balance growing Medicaid, school aids, University and corrections needs with equally-important roads, bridges, harbors and transit needs. It’s all important to the citizens of Wisconsin and there’s just so much money available. Those are hard decisions and we thank our state elected leaders for making them.

But, most of all, I argue that this most recent crop of numbers is a testament to the people who drive snow plows and buses and those who do the thankless job of caring for the pavement beneath them. Local government workers across Wisconsin deserve a huge pat on the back for keeping those underfunded local systems operating as well as they have. The needs have been growing, and this grant program has shown just how big the need has become. But, in the meantime, men and women in high-visibility vests with shovels in their hands have been holding it together. In classic, pragmatic local government “can-do” fashion, you have been keeping Main Street plowed and paved, the bike paths open, the harbors deep and the buses running on time. Thank you. Stay safe.


Bonus round for potholes!

Eau Claire St. 4 2016 GailWisconsin’s long road back to a well-maintained transportation system has begun. Yesterday the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced the details of a one-time grant competition to invest $75 million repairing, rebuilding and/or upgrading Wisconsin’s local roads, bridges, bike trails and transit systems. The grant program is one part of a state transportation budget that acknowledged the need to beef up our transportation system, especially (but not exclusively) the local part of our system.

The League has a simple message for Wisconsin’s cities and villages: APPLY! Come on, you know you have a road that’s long overdue for reconstruction, a bus stop that should have been bulldozed years ago, or a pedestrian trail nobody uses because it has more weeds, mud puddles and broken concrete than it has walkers. This is their chance; it’s the bonus round! As they say on the commercial: “Send it in!”

I give Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson, Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Legislature a serious “tip of the hat” on this one. It’s flexible, it’s responsive and it lets YOU at the LOCAL level make the call. Projects can be everything from “shovel ready” (can we hate that term yet??) to a gleam in your Public Works Director’s eye. As long as the project can be completed within six years, it’s eligible. Minimum project size is $250,000, and the maximum size is $3.5 million. You must have something that fits in between those two numbers. Every city and village does.

We won’t regurgitate all of the rules and regulations here; you can read them at the WisDOT’s web site. Just remember the deadline: December 6.

We also have a request: Send us pictures. The League would love to see the critical projects that our members want to work on. Send us an ugly “before” picture.

Potholes, your days are numbered.


212 Roads to Somewhere

The Wisconsin Legislature is deciding this spring whether or not to delay main street in 212 Wisconsin Cities, Villages and Towns. There are 212 state highway rehabilitation projects included in a $320 million state highway rehabilitation program budget request. The request is being considered this month by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance. Each of those projects is a vital piece of a community’s economic success. We hope the vote is “Green” for go.

We admit that the “State Highway Rehabilitation Program” is a name only a bureaucratic mother could love. And $320 million is a lot of money, even within a multi-billion dollar state budget. What’s the connection to downtown Wisconsin? It’s not local transportation aids. Why should we care?

We do care, because all roads in Wisconsin lead somewhere. For example, one of those 212 projects would resurface Highway 172 in the Green Bay Area; the highway that leads to the Brown County Airport. Another project would replace a critical bridge on Highways 59 and 18 in the City of Waukesha. One more resurfaces the road that runs through the Village of Athens in Marathon County. Project after project affects city after city, village after village and town after town. It’s all connected; connected to you and I.

State highways are the links between Wisconsin’s 602 cities and villages; they are also often the main thoroughfares through those communities. They carry farm products, manufacturing equipment, school buses, ambulances and the tens of thousands of family vehicles traveling back and forth every day. Without a quality network of these roads linking local roads and the highway system, it gets harder to get to work, to get to school, and to get emergency services to people who need them.

A few days ago, the Wisconsin DOT released the list of road rehabilitation projects that would be delayed or deferred (deferred is bureaucratic word that means something worse than delayed) if we cannot find consensus on how to pay for them. Take a look at the list; it’s long but organized by county. Chances are you’ll find a road that you drive on listed there. Think about that particular stretch of road. What happens to your village if that project doesn’t get done next year; or the year after; or maybe just doesn’t get done? Whose job is affected; whose school is affected; which ambulance has to be rerouted?

Think about that. Then call your area legislator. It’s all connected.