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Wisconsin’s Transportation Budget
As statewide transportation trends change and infrastructure throughout Wisconsin crumbles, demands on the state’s transportation budget are growing. The proposed 2015-17 biennial transportation budget recommends increasing bonding for transportation to a total of $1.3 billion for the next two years, while failing to address crucial transportation needs -- particularly at the local level.
We are charting an unsustainable course that cannot be corrected simply by raising more revenue for transportation purposes; if we are to bring Wisconsin’s transportation budget back to sound footing, we must reexamine the state’s transportation spending priorities, which have become increasingly imbalanced over the past decade. Skyrocketing growth in spending on costly major highway expansion projects has led to an incredible 400% growth in debt service as a portion of the state transportation budget over the past 15 years. At the same time, funding for local road and bridge maintenance has declined, leaving crucial infrastructure -- particularly in rural areas -- to crumble: today, 38% of Wisconsin’s local roads are in need of immediate repair.
Wisconsin needs a more responsible alternative. Given the state’s fiscal constraints, we must be sure to invest our limited transportation funds in the most critical priorities while looking for efficiencies wherever possible. Multibillion-dollar investments in major highway expansion projects warrant particular scrutiny, today more than ever, due to unprecedented changes in Wisconsinites’ travel preferences: Here and across the country, people are driving less than they used to -- a trend that is likely to continue in coming decades.
After a close examination of four major highway projects statewide, we find that traffic projections used to justify these costly expansions are not materializing. By scaling back these four highway expansion projects and not unnecessarily adding highway lanes, the state could save taxpayers nearly $500 million:
These savings could be used to reduce the state’s reliance on bonding; they would also allow for reinvestment in local priorities, to begin addressing the local transportation infrastructure crisis across Wisconsin.
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