Few agencies of government seem to crank out as many studies as the state Department of Transportation. We are bound to get another one, or at least some kind of report, with the recent formation of a 34-member task force to examine transportation funding options.
This task force could save everyone time by simply passing to Gov. Tony Evers and Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson all the previous studies done on this topic, in particular the 2016 Solvency Study. It focuses on tolling as the best option for boosting revenues for the state transportation fund.
This task force comprises lawmakers, including Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, and representatives of multiple interests groups, and their views on transportation aren’t a mystery. Thompson, the former executive director of a lobbying group, Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, understands as well as anybody the states’ transportation needs. At this point, the state needs a commitment to a plan of action, not another task force or study.
The Gazette Editorial Board has grown frustrated through the past few years with lawmakers’ dithering on infrastructure issues. We routinely ask candidates during interviews with the board about their ideas for funding infrastructure improvements, and they routinely sidestep the issue.
Notably, in 2016, some legislators told us they were waiting for the completion of a study on the feasibility of tolling before taking a position on transportation funding. But even after the study’s release in December 2016, many lawmakers remained noncommittal, continuing to echo former Gov. Scott Walker’s dogmatic opposition to raising revenues.
The study leaves little question as to where the state is headed if it fails to increase transportation fund revenues. The study projects the current funding course will drive the state deeper into debt, while the percentage of highways likely to be in “poor” condition could more than double by 2027, depending on the level of debt incurred, the study projects.
The way out of this problem is to find new revenue sources, namely tolling, which comes with the added benefit of generating revenues from Illinois residents who enter and exit the state via I-90/39 and I-94/41. Other ideas include raising the gas tax, a mileage-based motor vehicle registration fee and transferring sales tax on vehicles and vehicle parts to the transportation fund.
If this new task force is able to build a consensus among lawmakers as to how to increase road funding, perhaps the task force will have served a purpose. Otherwise, we expect the task force to do little more than confirm what many of this state’s drivers already know: The state’s roads are in bad shape, and new revenues are needed to fix them.
It’s time for action.