Wisconsin is in the middle of a highway building boom.
Local roads? Not so much.
There are people in Wisconsin who want to change that.
Friends of Wisconsin is pushing a state constitutional amendment to require that half of all gas tax and vehicle fee revenue be sent to local governments for building and maintaining local roads.
Meanwhile Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett wants to shift $112 million to local roads from major highway projects.
Both plans would point road construction and maintenance in the right direction.
There clearly is an imbalance between investments in expressways and freeways and in local streets. Take, for example, Hwy. 29 and Hwy. 10 in central Wisconsin. Highway 29 has been an expressway/freeway between Green Bay and Elk Mound since the final link of its expansion was opened in 2005.
There is nothing wrong with that. A four-lane highway was needed through central Wisconsin. But now just 35 miles to the south, another expressway/freeway has been completed. Highway 10 now is four lanes from Appleton to Marshfield with the final section opening this week.
Other expensive projects abound. Interstate 90-39 will expand from two lanes to three between Madison and the Illinois state line. Interstate 94 will expand from three to four lanes between Milwaukee and Illinois. Perhaps all these projects are necessary. But nobody can argue that freeway construction in Wisconsin is being starved.
On the other hand, local streets accumulate potholes that can’t be filled by cities and villages facing budget constraints. These streets are important. They account for 90 percent of the state’s lane miles and carry 40 percent of vehicle traffic.
Should any of this be addressed by constitutional amendment? No. The constitution shouldn’t be cluttered with ordinary policy choices. However, it’s more than legitimate to question why we continue to tack on more freeway lanes while local roads crumble. It’s a question of priorities, and those priorities need a thorough review.
A Tomah Journal editorial