Multimodal Local Supplement Grant Awards Only Scratch the Surface of Our Road Challenges

Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the grant awards for the Multimodal Local Supplement (MLS) grant program on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. This is the grant program that was meant to distribute funds to fix local, rural roads.

The 17th Senate District received $4,001,044.57 for a total of nine projects. While these funds are something, they are definitely not enough and barely scratch the surface of our road challenges. In the 17th Senate District alone, we had 165 project applications worth $111,222,511. The awards we received are only for 5% of the projects and 4% of the value requested in our district.

The grants went to the following communities in the 17th Senate District:

CountyProject SponsorProject NameModal TypeAward
GrantTown of BeetownDiamond Grove RoadRoad$458,963.60
GrantVillage of CassvilleJack Oak Road TrailBike/Ped$635,376.00
GrantTown of Hazel GreenJefferson RoadMultimodal; Road, Bike/Ped$230,444.91
GrantTown of PlattevilleN Second StreetMultimodal; Road, Bike/Ped$665,418.43
GreenTown of JordanN Loop RoadRoad$119,228.27
IowaTown of WyomingSneed Creek RoadRoad$65,794.07
JuneauJuneau CountyCounty Highway ORoad$1,000,000
LafayetteTown of White Oak SpringsBlackhawk Road BridgeBridge$51,832.59
RichlandTown of EagleTown Hall DriveRoad$773,986.70
TOTAL$4,001,044.57

Statewide, the distribution was not much different. There were a total of 1,596 applications worth $1,466,370,391. Actual distribution came to 152 projects worth the approximately $75 million from the state budget. This means only 10% of project applications actually received funding. It’s something…but it’s clearly not enough.

As you may recall, I worked very hard to designate funds in the state budget last summer for local, rural roads. I originally sought $133 million, which was then compromised to $90 million to be divided among towns, counties, cities and villages for local road maintenance and repairs. This is the package the legislature passed in our state budget.

Governor Tony Evers vetoed $15 million off of these dollars and further vetoed all of the language that directed the funding to local roads. Fortunately, the DOT somewhat heard our pleas and approved a plan that mostly restored our original intent for the remaining $75 million in funding. Unfortunately, they opened up eligibility for these funds and offered them for other types of projects including bike paths, harbors, railroads, buses and pedestrian walkways. I wanted ALL of the funding to go toward road maintenance, repair and construction, with an emphasis on local, RURAL roads. It did not.

In my analysis of the grant awards, I discovered that 25 of the projects that received grant funding, including several in the 17th Senate District, were for non-road purposes ranging from bike lane and bike trail projects to waterfront improvements in harbors. Several of these projects use this road funding to take existing four lane roads to two lanes in order to create bicycle accommodations. More than 16% of these grant funds are going toward projects that do not fix roads.

I was glad to see that Dane and Milwaukee counties were not given extraordinary preference for awards. There were 64 applications from the county, cities, villages and towns of Dane county, but they only got six awards. The total value of their requests was $103,123,443.11, but they received $3,593,054. Only 9.38% of their requests were funded. Milwaukee county was similar. They had 28 projects and received awards for three. Their total ask was $67,221,317.96, but they only received 2.08% of their requests.

It is important to note that the original offer in this grant program was 90-10 funding in which the local government would only need to contribute 10% of the project costs. I discovered that the majority of the funded projects will receive only 70% of project costs and some far less. In fact, some communities did not receive the grants because they couldn’t contribute more local money and thus were disqualified. I was very concerned about this competitive element of the program. I know some of the smaller communities and counties I represent struggle to compete for state dollars on a regular basis. They lost again.

The MLS had a minimum project total cost of $250,000 for counties, cities and villages and a minimum project total cost of $50,000 for towns to even apply. Keep in mind that with a project worth $50,000, the local governments originally thought they would need to contribute $5,000 in a 90-10 split. In reality, many were asked to contribute 30% or $15,000 of a $50,000 project and some even more. I wonder how many small, but important, projects in our communities, could have gotten done without these parameters and requirements?

I still firmly believe that if we are going to fix our roads and solve our major transportation challenges statewide, we should be distributing a uniform, infusion of funding to counties, towns, cities and villages in a noncompetitive way. My original proposal, nearly a year ago, was to give every county an additional, one-time infusion of $1 million and every town an additional $1,000 per mile of town road. If I re-wrote this plan today, I would also give every city and village an additional $1,000 per mile of city or village roadway.

For some communities, a smaller infusion of funding is a drop in the bucket. But in the communities I serve, I know this funding would make a difference. It would accelerate critical improvements, give communities resources to do more and apply it however they need it most without having to compete for the funding.

While the legislative session is quickly coming to a close, I am already thinking about the next state budget. I will be proposing my uniform distribution of one-time funding for roads again, in addition to seeking additional increases in ongoing road funding. This is the issue I hear most about when I am out in the 17th Senate District talking with you. I will continue to fight for local, rural roads.

Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) represents Wisconsin’s 17th Senate District.