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Rough roads need fixing

Cloverland Town Board Chairman Larry Loustari, left, and Douglas County Board Supervisor Mary Lou Bergman use color pushpins to indicated problem roads in the areas of Douglas County where they live during a Turnout for Transportation event in Douglas County. Similar events were held Thursday in counties throughout Wisconsin. (Shelley Nelson)

With no increases planned in the state's next biennial budget for transportation, city, town and county officials came together Thursday to discuss the problems that poses for solving transportation issues locally.

The Turnout for Transportation event in Douglas County was among 71 other county events held throughout the state Thursday night.

Local officials are calling on legislators to fix the state's funding mechanism for transportation.

The goal of the event was to put a spotlight on the critical projects and services in the region, and the need for the legislature to find a sustainable solution to Wisconsin's transportation challenges, said Douglas County Administrator Andy Lisak.

"We just came back from the Wisconsin Counties Association convention in Milwaukee," said County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert. "What we found out down there is other counties are in the exact same boat we are. They're dealing with transportation issues at a level and a problem they have not seen in their tenure. ... They've been dealing with this for a long time and they don't have any other directions to solving this problem any more than we do."

With stagnant county revenues, and a $2 million allocated for highway maintenance in the county's annual budget, Douglas County has started bonding to make needed road repairs.

Even that isn't enough to address the needs, Lisak said.

Douglas County has 338 miles of county highways, 155 miles of which are at a PASER rating — a scale of 1-10 for rating the surface condition of roads — of five or less, and another 135 miles with a rating between five and eight, meaning 86 percent of all county roads are in need of some form of maintenance, said Douglas County Highway Commissioner Jason Jackman. He said to crawl out of that hole, the county would need between $5 million and $7 million annually for road maintenance.

Later this month, the board will consider doubling its bonding next year to address some of the county's worst roads.

With the help of bonding this year, Jackman said the county was able to address nearly 24 miles of roads — and the most he's seen in his 16 years with the highway department. He said records show less than 35 miles of roads have been reconstructed.

Most road projects involve pulverizing pavement and laying new blacktop, not addressing the base, Jackman said.

"We don't have the resources to address our needs," Lisak said. While the governor has proposed spending less on mega projects in southeast Wisconsin to provide local aid for transportation, it's not likely to have a significant impact on the ability to maintain local transportation systems, he said.

"The problem is trying to come up with increasing dollars with decreasing transportation dollars, Liebaert said. "Our county is not the only one having to deal with borrowing money to meet those obligations ... the transportation infrastructure is crumbling before our eyes."

The events statewide were sponsored by the Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin League of Municipalities and Wisconsin Towns Association.

"It is incumbent on all of us to find a sustainable solution for the long-term economy and safety of Wisconsin," said Mike Koles, director of the Wisconsin Towns Association.

Mark O'Connell, director of the counties association, said transportation investment is critical to Wisconsin's future success.

But it's not just counties that are struggling to pay for road projects.

Superior's Public Works director, Todd Janigo, said if you look at recent projects in the city — it demonstrations a 900-year replacement cycle. He said the city does very little reconstruction and basically patches streets with a paver, meaning the city has roads with 80- to 90-year-old concrete beneath it. Janigo said reconstructing five blocks on East Fifth Street cost $2.5 million, and reconstructing Belknap Street from Hill to Banks avenues — slated for 2017 and 2018 — is expected to cost $27 million with the help of state funding.

Lakeside Town Board Chairman and president of the Douglas County unit of the towns association, Tom Johnson, said there are some blacktopped town roads that have to be turned into gravel roads, because towns simply don't have the resources to repair them.

"We've only got 44 miles, but it might as well be 144 for the funding we've got," said Bennett Town Board Chairman Barry Carlson, who described one road in Bennett with a corded wood base that has him concerned the town's grader could roll while performing maintenance.

Gary Kane of Maple said while the town inherited the old County Highway FF, it's probably not had anything done to the blacktop since the 1980s, and the town just can't afford it without some help.

"With as tight as town budgets are, it's difficult to get a lot of this stuff done," Johnson said.

How you can help

Douglas County Administrator Andy Lisak recommended several options people can use to keep pressure on to find sustainable solutions to transportation funding:

• Text JustFixItWI to 52886 to send a message to elected officials about Thursday night’s event.

• Tell your transportation story at www.JustFixItWI.com or www.TurnoutforTransportation.com; instructions are available at the latter site.

• Like TDAWisconsin on Facebook and invite friends to like the page.

• Follow TDAWisconsin on Twitter and join the conversation using #JustFixItWI

• Write a letter to the editor explaining how a transportation project of service impacts you, your community or your business.

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