Roadwork estimates nearly double in Wisconsin

| 8/9/2006

Lawmakers in Wisconsin are scratching their heads over the state's road funding needs. Soaring inflation rates and other cost increases have tacked on nearly $385 million to the price tag of roadwork in Wisconsin, the state Transportation Department reports.

According to WisDOT, the cost of completing 27 road projects nearly doubled the original estimate for the first half of the year to $3.69 billion – up from $1.95 billion.

The agency report was released as the Legislature's Transportation Needs and Financing Committee searches for ways to address the rising costs of road and bridge work. The report also follows an announcement by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau that the state needs to increase transportation funding by as much as $700 million a year to meet goals set by the agency in 2000, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Inflation is being blamed for part of the problem. Construction costs, fuel and steel prices also are contributors to higher costs. But dwindling fuel tax revenue resulting from people driving less in the face of $3-per-gallon pump prices is worsening the situation, The Associated Press reported.

Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, co-chairman of the Road to the Future Committee, said lawmakers would have open minds for how to fund roads.

“I'm not saying I'm going to tolerate an increase in (fuel) taxes or fees, but everything has to be on the table,” Kapanke told the Journal Sentinel .

Wisconsin's gubernatorial candidates haven't provided many details on how they would address funding problems.

Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle opposes adding tolls. He also signed a bill into law ending the state's automatic annual indexing formula of the fuel tax.

However, Matt Canter, the governor's aide, said Doyle couldn't rule out a possible fuel tax increase if reelected.

U.S. Rep. Mark Green, the Republican candidate for governor, said his opponent contributed to the funding problem by diverting money from transportation to schools, The AP reported. Green said he would never do that.

Luke Punzenberger, a spokesman for Green's campaign, said the GOP lawmaker would work to ensure vehicle sales taxes are sent to the transportation fund. But Punzenberger wouldn't say if Green would support higher fuel taxes or vehicle registration fees, The AP reported.