How to pay for new roads and for maintaining current roads is an ongoing debate in Wisconsin. State experts gathered at the 6th Annual Monroe County Economic Development Conference in Warrens on Thursday, an area where quality roads are a growing concern.
Transportation funding is not keeping up with demand, and there are many roads in the state in serious need of repair or replacement. Many lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, support an increase in the gas tax or vehicle registration fees to raise the money.
Transportation issues in Wisconsin are not new, and they won't go away overnight. A strong infrastructure of roadways is critical to economic success, especially in Monroe County with Highway I-90 and Highway I-94.
"Many of the goods and services we consume and provide in this state use the interstate transportation network on a daily basis. So, we need to maintain that. We need to care for it," said Mark O'Connell, executive director of the Wisconsin Counties Association.
Caring for the roadways comes at a price.
"We will need money," O'Connell said. "I know some people don't like to hear this, but we're going to have to put some more dollars into our hard transportation infrastructure. It's a difficult thing, but if we want to be a successful state, if we want a state where our children have opportunities, if we want businesses to succeed and flourish and grow, if we want to be an attractive state for young people in the future, we need a good, solid transportation infrastructure."
That price might be paid in different ways. Experts talked about raising gas tax or user fees such as toll ways or higher vehicle registration prices.
" We think it should come from user fees people that use the system. Our neighbors pay considerably more in user fees than we do and the roads are considerably better than ours, so we think we need to look in that direction," said Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association.
O'Connell praised Monroe County for addressing transportation issues.
"When you have a gathering like this and you have a couple hundred people take time out of their day to talk about their community, their area, and what is necessary to succeed, it is a credit to this area," he said.
Experts agree that without the help of lawmakers, the lack of transportation funding will continue.
"What we have done in terms of elected officials and politicians in this state, we have made decisions that made the problem worse over the last 20 years. So, you know, you make your bed, you lie in it," said Todd Berry, President of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
The panel discussion comes just days after a bridge in Buffalo County failed. That bridge was one of 1,200 bridges in the state that is structurally deficient.
O'Connell supports the use of available funds to maintain current roadways rather than building new ones.