Letter to the Editor: 

Addressing our growing transportation needs has become a hotly debated topic at the state and national levels. In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed transportation budget offers a responsible and urgently-needed path forward to address an issue that has been studied, debated, avoided and delayed for well over a decade.

One issue that’s no longer open for debate is the overall decline in pavement conditions. Anyone who analyzes pavement condition reports or regularly drives Wisconsin roads will come to the same unavoidable conclusion: pave­­ment conditions across our state are worsening. And without prompt action, we can expect that trend to continue.

Finding consensus on a long-term transportation funding solution has proven elusive, sending policymakers down an ill-advised path of least resistance: borrowing. Close to 20% of Wisconsin’s transportation revenues are used to pay off debt service (compared to 10% in 2006). While bonding has a role in funding larger, long-term projects, it is on an unsustainable trajectory in Wisconsin.

In response to these challenges, Gov. Evers has provided a comprehensive strategy to break this decade-long impasse. Many of these same concepts were unanimously endorsed by the state’s bi-partisan Transportation Finance and Policy Commission established under former Gov. Walker back in 2011. 

Key components of Gov. Evers’ transportation budget: an 8-cent increase in the state motor fuel tax costing the average Wisconsin driver $3.30 per month (comparable to a Mocha Frappuccino at a pop­­ular coffee venue); re­starting gas tax indexing to keep pace with inflation; and increasing heavy truck fees, original and transfer title fees.

In return, Wisconsin can finally begin making long-overdue investments in its multimodal transportation system with an emphasis on preserving existing infrastructure in every part of the state:

• $320 million increase for state highway rehabilitation.

• $66 million increase in transportation aids to ease pressure on municipalities.

• Finishing work on the Zoo Interchange, Wisconsin’s largest, most economically vital interchange.

• Investments in public transit, elderly and disabled transportation, freight and passenger rail, airports and harbors.

For many decades, motor fuel taxes have functioned adequately as a user fee to support transportation needs and they remain a viable funding source into the foreseeable future. Importantly, the time to act is now. Adjusting the motor fuel tax involves no administrative or infrastructure costs and can be implemented promptly to address needs.

Since 2013, 30 states have agreed on funding plans to support  investments in transportation services and infrastructure. In those states, red and blue, this involved adjusting motor fuel taxes. 

Under Gov. Evers’ leadership and with willingness from policymakers, Wisconsin is positioned to make a similar investment in the state’s transportation network that will support public safety and mobility, economic growth and quality of life.

Craig Thompson

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary-designee