PLATTEVILLE — The biggest impact of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation on southwest Wisconsin probably is the U.S. 151 expressway.
But the state has spent $2.5 million on improvements to the Platteville Municipal Airport over the past 12 months.
The person who administers one of the state’s largest departments, Secretary of Transportation Mark Gottlieb, spoke to the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
WisDOT will spend $3.25 billion this fiscal year on roads, mass transit, aviation, harbors and rail.
Gottlieb, a former Republican state representative, said Gov. Scott Walker is “very aware of the importance of a good transportation system in Wisconsin’s economy.” Gottlieb said the three top industries in Wisconsin are manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, and “a good, efficient and safe transportation system is extremely important to all these functions.”
Gottlieb said the stereotype that WisDOT prefers to build roads than maintain them is belied by the fact that more than $800 million of the $1.5 billion the state will spend on road construction will be on rehabilitation projects, with another $200 million spent on maintenance.
All of that is funded through revenues that are dependent on the economy and travel. Half of the transportation budget is funded from two sources — the $75 motor vehicle registration fee and the 30.9-cent motor fuel tax. One-fourth is funded through federal revenues, one-eighth is funded by bond funds, and the rest comes from miscellaneous revenue sources.
The motor fuel tax presents an interesting dilemma. Gas tax revenues are flat because people are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, and the less gas they buy, the less the state gets in gas taxes. Over the next 10 years, Gottlieb predicted, the national fleet average fuel economy will increase from 20 mpg to 24 mpg.
“It’s a concern state DOTs are seeing all through the country,” said Gottlieb, who claimed that transportation will be underfunded by $15 billion to $18 billion over the next decade without more revenues.
Walker has created the Wisconsin Transportation Finance and Policy Commission to determine alternative funding sources.
“Our job as an agency is to provide the decision-makers with the best technical information we can provide … not to get into that speculation” of potential funding sources, he said.
One way to get more mileage out of the transportation dollar is to improve WisDOT’s operations. Gottlieb said WisDOT is implementing a Performance Improvement Program, a “data-driven program to measure our performance,” featuring 23 metrics in the areas of Mobility, Accountability, Preservation, Safety and Service.
WisDOT is creating a Priority Corridors Plan to prioritize transportation spending “in areas in as much as targeted a way as possible,” Gottlieb said. He expects the plan to be completed by the end of the year.
U.S. 151 from Dubuque to Madison was converted from two lanes to four in several segments — the opening of the Iowa-to-Wisconsin bridge and the Dodgeville bypass in 1982; the two-lane bypasses of Ridgeway, Barneveld and Mount Horeb in 1983 and 1984; adding two lanes from Dodgeville to east of Mount Horeb in 1989; the four-lane project from south of Kieler to Dickeyville in 1994; the Verona bypass in 1995; the Mineral Point bypass in 2002; and the Dickeyville-to-Belmont stretch, including the Platteville bypass, in 2003.
After the Wisconsin 80 project is completed this year, Gottlieb said Grant County’s next major road project will be U.S. 61 from Dickeyville to Lancaster, which will include the addition of passing lanes. The project is scheduled for 2016, but may be moved up one year, he said.
WisDOT has no plans to expand 61 beyond that project, or to expand U.S. 18, Gottlieb said. Unless the state Legislature mandates a road project, decisions on road expansions are “a fairly mechanistic process,” he said.
ta-driven process of selection for projects all over the state,” he said of 18. “In a world of limited resources, that project doesn’t score very high.”
One growth area in WisDOT has nothing to do with roads, but has to do with drivers —expanding Division of Motor Vehicles facilities as part of the state’s voter ID law. The Legislature mandated that every county have a DMV facility open at least 20 hours per week to facilitate purchase of photo IDs, which are required to vote in Wisconsin. (The voter ID law is on hold during a court challenge.)
A related initiative is E-Fleet, an electronic method of renewing vehicle registrations for such fleets as rental cars and utility trucks.
WisDOT also administers nearly $1 billion of local transportation aids, and funds 30 percent of mass transit costs.
Few people are probably aware that the state is in the rail business. The state’s Freight Rail Preservation Program owns more than 600 miles of track, which Gottlieb said “may not be profitable for a railroad to operate on that line, but from the state perspective it’s important to have that service.” Local communities contract with short-line railroads on FRPP track, he said.
Gottlieb wants to improve the condition of the FRPP track, more than half of which is rated for train speeds of only 10 mph.
“We need to find a way to bring those lines up to some kind of standard where they can be operated efficiently,” he said.
Grant County has two sets of tracks — the Burlington Northern line along the Mississippi River, and the Wisconsin Western along the Wisconsin River east of Woodman. Gottlieb said the state promotes freight rail because trains are “taking a lot of trucks off the highway, so that reduces congestion and the need for construction.”