Empower Wisconsin | March 6, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Remember when Gov. Tony Evers scolded the Republican-led Legislature to “fix the damn roads?”
It was kind a pithy slogan the tax-and-spend governor whipped up (pilfered from Michigan’s liberal governor) to show Wisconsin voters just how mad he was that Republicans wouldn’t get behind his massive gas tax and vehicle fee increases.
Fixing the roads is literally what Evers campaigned on. So why is his Department of Transportation handing out millions of dollars for bike paths, busses, and expensive ferry rides?
The Democrat this week announced $75 million in one-time grant funding for 152 transportation-related projects and programs around the state.
Nearly $670,000 of those taxpayer funds will help build the Ozaukee County Interurban bike and pedestrian trail. Another $1 million is marked for road/bike/and pedestrian work in Walworth County. The Village of Cassville gets $635,000 for a bike/pedestrian trail. And there’s more. Much more. It’s like an everybody-gets-a-car episode of Oprah.
The city of Milwaukee will receive north of $200,000 to help fund a Lake Michigan cruise dock. The funding would ultimately assist privately owned Lake Express, a “fast ferry” carrying vehicles and passengers across Lake Michigan from Milwaukee to Muskegon, Mich. At rates north of $200 per passenger roundtrip, it’s a pretty pricey mode of transportation for your average family of four.
Meanwhile, eight of Wisconsin’s 72 counties got bupkis. Florence County, one of the poorest counties in the state, certainly could have used some funding, according to Deniell Bomberg, office manager for the county’s highway department. She said at least two townships and the county’s roads division applied for grants. They weren’t asking for help for bike paths or pedestrian trails.
“The projects that were submitted by the townships and the highway department are for roads that are severely deteriorated,” she said. “As a small community and townships, we don’t have a lot of money. That would have helped us tremendously.”
While the sparsely populated Northwoods county may not see the kind of traffic numbers as Milwaukee and Madison, the rural roads are critical to the residents of Florence County.
“Think about tourism or farmers getting their products from point A to point B,” Evers said in announcing the grants. “Folks getting to and from work, to school, and our state economy absolutely depends on having good roads, safe bridges and great highways.”
Milwaukee County’s bus system picked up $1 million in one-time funding. Fond du Lac County was the only other county to receive some transit funding, part of a $1 million grant for road construction and a bike and pedestrian trail. Twenty Wisconsin cities operate fixed route transit systems.
Republican leadership was quick to point out Evers’ departure from his road-centric campaign. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) noted that Evers used his veto pen to cut $15 million from the $90 million in local road program approved by the Legislature.
“Governor Evers is shortchanging our local roads. Legislative Republicans created this $90 million program for local road repairs; the governor cut it by $15 million and opened up the program to all types of projects,” Vos said. “It’s disappointing that 100 percent of the money isn’t going to local roads as intended. Instead, millions of dollars are being diverted to bike paths and buses with fewer dollars available to help crumbling roads.”
Leave it to Evers to demand lawmakers “fix the damn roads” and then allocate millions for non-road projects.