Gov. Evers talks transportation in Green Bay visit
By Lee Reinsch
GREEN BAY – Communities short on cash for transportation improvements in their local areas will soon be able to apply for grants that could pay for a chunk of the costs.
Last month, the Wisconsin Legislature approved $75 million to be used for transportation improvements, from filling potholes to adding bus routes.
“Wisconsinites spend an additional $300 on car repairs every year because of bad roads and potholes,” said Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes during a recent visit to Green Bay.
Gov. Tony Evers shoveled fresh tar into a few potholes on South Adams Street near Crooks Street on Aug. 14, before talking about money for local roads and transportation initiatives.
He said he and Barnes experienced many potholes and bumpy roads in their travels across the state.
The $75 million in grant money is to be spread between villages, cities and counties.
The funds come from part of the money that the Legislature previously earmarked for the state’s local roads improvement program.
The new framing of the funds as transportation grant money instead of road improvement money widens eligibility beyond roads to include projects such as bike trails, pedestrian paths and mass transit.
“This is all about economic development, which includes mass transit,” Evers said. “We’re hoping to have municipalities across the state increase ridership, but the increase is not enough.”
Evers said municipalities have been struggling with funding for general upkeep of local roads.
“I’m disappointed that we were not able to find a sustainable solution,” Evers said, referring to a proposed 8-cent increase in the gas tax, which would have been applied toward infrastructure projects and maintenance.
Instead of a gas tax increase, the Legislature voted to raise vehicle title-transfer fees and registration fees.
“We don’t want to go around and raise fees every year,” Evers said.
Grant parameters haven’t been set in stone yet, so to speak, said Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Northeast Region Communications Manager Mark Kantola.
But grants will be awarded based on economic impact of the project to the area as well as need.
“We anticipate that we’ll see a lot of interest in it,” Kantola said.
Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, echoed the governor’s sentiments on the failure of a gas tax to be implemented.
He said he knows people who live in neighboring states and drive over the state line into Wisconsin to purchase their gas here.
“Gas is cheaper here because we don’t have (that extra) gas tax,” Hansen said. “Instead they’re raising title transfer fees by 137 percent (from $69.50 to $164.50) and increasing vehicle registration fees by $10 (from $75 per year to $85 per year).”
The fee increases are projected to raise just under $400 million.
Along with the $75 million in grants for county, city and village projects, the 2019–21 state budget includes $320 million in state highway rehabilitation funding for highways and bridges statewide and an increase of 10 percent
($66 million over the biennium) in general transportation aid.
General transportation aid helps offset transportation-related expenses in counties, cities, villages and towns in the state, Kantola said.
In addition to the proposed 8-cent-per-gallon gas tax, another part of Evers’s original plan for raising transportation revenue that failed to pass included extra charges for drivers of large trucks and other heavy-wear vehicles.