During the 2016 fall election campaign, some Republican legislative candidates sought cover when asked by the La Crosse Tribune editorial board about the deteriorating roads in Wisconsin.
“Just wait,” they’d plead. “We’re expecting an audit of the state Department of Transportation that will help answer questions.”
Well, we’ve received the audit and we’ve received some answers — and they’re embarrassing.
The report released last week by the Legislative Audit Bureau tells us our roads are worse than we thought — and much worse than roads in neighboring states.
It tells us that our state has done a terrible job of budgeting for road projects — underestimating the ongoing costs by billions of dollars because state officials failed to adequately consider rising costs.
So, for all of you who are big fans of waiting until problem roads fix themselves, here’s what you get: deteriorating roads that are getting more expensive to fix by the day.
How bad are our roads?
If you go by the state rating system, only 41 percent of state highways were rated in good condition in 2015 — down from 53.5 percent using the same rating system in 2010.
If you use the federal ratings, only 32.2 percent of state highways are in good condition – and our neighbors have left us in the dust. The next state up the federal rating scale — Iowa, at 55.3 percent.
Of course, the governor doesn’t want to raise a penny of revenue.
Here’s what his spokesman, Tom Evenson, said in the wake of the audit last week: “The bottom line is we shouldn’t even be thinking about raising the gas tax or fees until we find every last cost savings at the DOT, and the audit shows we can find more savings.”
If you wait to find the last penny of savings at the DOT, we’ll have people hiking across the state because the roads have crumbled to dust.
Should we find savings at DOT — make sure that more projects have more than one bidder, for instance?
And, in the past five years, what has the governor and his DOT done to make that happen — and how many more years do they anticipate making us wait before they act?
This state needs to raise revenue, from the gas tax to the annual automatic gas-tax indexing that once helped fix our roads.
The state needs to strengthen the DOT’s procedures.
And, the state clearly needs to set priorities — because no amount of increased revenue and DOT efficiencies will fix every bit of roadway that needs it.
This is a business problem.
It’s a tourism problem.
And it says a great deal about our unwillingness to invest in our future.
Business groups — from farmers and cranberry growers, dairy producers and trucking companies, tourism attractions, bankers and business-development groups — have formed a group called DRIVE to build support for a bipartisan solution for funding a transportation solution.
The group issued a statement last week in the wake of the audit report that said, in part: “Our roads are in crisis. The cost to fix them increases every year. Hitting the pause button or kicking the can down the road will only make our roads worse and the remedy more expensive.”
It’s time to quit trying to fool the citizens and businesses of Wisconsin: Our roads are getting worse and it will take more money to fix them.