Gov. Scott Walker stood near the Highway 151 construction project in Fitchburg this week, urging the Legislature to “get it done.”
The Republican governor is right that this vital expansion of highway, connecting southwest Wisconsin with Madison and the Fox Valley, should stay on schedule for a 2019 finish. Besides serving as a major route for trucks and commuters, Highway 151 (which doubles as Verona Road) serves some of the state’s fastest-growing employers, including Epic Systems of Verona, which has been adding about 1,000 jobs a year.
Modern roads get people and products where they need to go. So the state definitely should prioritize this project and others where traffic is heavy and increasing.
But what the governor failed to acknowledge at his press conference Monday is he is the biggest reason so many projects are falling behind. Gov. Walker has repeatedly failed to support a sustainable transportation funding system. He wants to borrow half a billion dollars in his latest state budget request, rather than raising long-stagnant fees on drivers to bring in real money.
The Legislature shouldn’t allow the governor to continue pushing highway costs into the future. Lawmakers should insist on more revenue and less borrowing in ongoing state budget negotiations.
Reconstruction of Highway 151 southwest of Madison had been targeted for completion in 2018. Then the state pushed it back a year because of limited funding. Now the project is at risk of further delay.
This isn’t just a Madison problem. It’s a concern across the state, which ranks 49th out of 50 states for the quality of its roads. And the biggest reason our state’s roads are so bad is because the governor has refused to increase fees on motorists, either through the gas tax, vehicle registration fee, or some other kind of charge.
Nobody likes to pay higher fees to use a state service. But that’s what’s required to keep Wisconsin roads in good condition.
The governor is increasing fees on state park users, agricultural chemicals and commercial feed. Raising a charge on motorists for the first time in more than a decade to ensure better roads is reasonable, too. Drivers are actually paying less in gas taxes than a decade ago because vehicles burn less fuel.
Republicans who run the state Assembly understand good roads require more money to maintain and improve as inflation increases. The Senate seems less willing to acknowledge this simple math. And the governor is pretending he can freeze user fees on motorists forever — or at least until after his next election.
It’s hard to “get it done” for Wisconsin motorists when the governor won’t raise enough money to keep construction projects on pace with need.