Roads have long been my top priority in the legislature. This session, I consistently fought to ensure that transportation money was invested in fixing our local, rural roads.

I am proud of the work we accomplished this session. Through the budget process and subsequent legislation, I worked hard to ensure that local roads received priority and supported reforms that increased efficiency and saved money at the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Just over one year ago, while we were hard at work on the state budget, I developed a plan that invested $133.6 million directly in local roads and bridges – $1 million for each county and $1,000 per road mile for towns. This proposal would have meant more than $14 million in direct cash payments for roads and bridges in the 17th Senate District. The purpose of this plan was to invest in roads – not bike paths or trains – roads.

My colleagues and I pushed hard for this proposal to be included in the budget. Through negotiations with the Assembly, we were still able to secure $90 million in 1-time road funding. However, the governor used his veto pen to strip away $15 million from this funding and all of the language that directed this money toward local roads. In response, I authored a letter asking the governor to keep the remaining money for local roads.

Ultimately the governor and the DOT created the $75 million Multimodal Local Supplement (MLS) Program. Statewide requests totaled well over $1.4 billion and there were over $111 million in requests in the 17th Senate District alone. On March 4, 2020 152 communities received $75 million in funding. In the 17th SD, 9 projects totaling just over $4 million were funded.

To further our investment in fixing the roads, we increased funding for General Transportation Aids (GTA’s) by $66 million over the biennium. This increase, coupled with the MLS program money, will mean more than $1 billion specifically for local roads over the biennium. For calendar year 2020, more than $28.5 million will be coming to communities in the 17th Senate District through GTA’s.

Some towns are limited in the amount of GTA’s they can receive because the GTA formula is a spending based formula. To help these communities, the legislature invested $2.5 million each year to help these towns receive their full GTA payment. This helped five towns in the 17th Senate District including the Town of Mt. Ida ($19,685.61), the Town of Kingston ($17,049.94), the Town of New Diggings ($12,742.44), the Town of Buena Vista ($12,594.47), and the Town of Franklin ($24,181.35).

We also invested nearly $2 billion in the State Highway Rehabilitation Program over the biennium. This will fund projects such as Highway 81 between Lancaster and Platteville and Argyle and Monroe, Highway 133 between Muscoda and Lone Rock, and Highway 60 between Gotham and Boscobel.

We made all of these investments without raising the gas tax as the governor proposed. Instead, we raised the title fee by $95 and the annual registration fee by $10. By increasing these fees instead of the gas tax, the average driver will save between $15 and $55 per year, depending on the fuel efficiency of their vehicle. We made strong investments in fixing the roads, while keeping a watch on the checkbook for all Wisconsinites.

In addition to fixing the roads, the legislature developed reforms to increase the efficiency of the DOT and save the taxpayers money by expanding and offering the design-build method of construction planning for some projects, requiring the DOT to maintain an inventory of at least five highway projects suitable for selection as design-build projects and a package of bills called the “Road to Sustainability Package”, which pushed the DOT to use taxpayer money more efficiently.

I co-authored Senate Bill (SB) 277, which would allow contractors to source aggregate materials from the right-of-way of the project, if it met certain requirements, rather than paying a higher cost to source and transport materials from distant locations. This is economically smart! It reduces unnecessary costs, pollution and waste associated with bringing materials in that already exist onsite. This bill passed the Senate, but did not receive a floor vote in the Assembly.

SB 272 allows contractors to review the DOT’s list of approved, structurally-equivalent alternatives for subgrade construction, the material underneath a constructed road, and propose whichever construction approach is the lowest cost for that contractor to bid and construct. Unfortunately, even though this bill passed the legislature, the governor vetoed the bill in its entirety. This bill would have allowed contractors to determine which materials to use to deliver quality projects at the lowest cost, which would have saved the taxpayers money.

Another way to save taxpayer money is to closely examine single-bid projects, many of which come in over budget. To ensure costs are reasonable, SB 284 required that the DOT reject bids if there is only one bidder for a project or if it exceeds the Department’s estimate for the project by more than 10%. This bill passed both houses of the legislature, but in different forms and did not complete the legislative cycle.

These investments will make a difference in our communities. The reform bills we worked on will make the DOT more efficient and use taxpayer money more effectively. As the session wraps up, I am proud of the work that we did to invest in roads. I will continue to advocate for money for rural roads in future budgets and legislation.

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