Report finds city, county need state and federal help to address infrastructure needs

Streets, highways, bridges, buses and public buildings will require more than local government can spend

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Milwaukee’s transportation and building infrastructure requires substantial upgrades, according to a report released by Milwaukee-based nonprofit Public Policy Forum on Tuesday, but both the city and county may have trouble paying for them without help from the state or the federal government.

Downtown Milwaukee riverfront.

The report, called “A Fork in the Road?” concludes the streets, highways, bridges and buses of the city and Milwaukee County have “substantial investment needs” and those needs “will be more difficult to meet as overall financial pressures limit the amount of borrowing both governments should be pursuing.”

“It would be inappropriate to view either the city’s or county’s transportation infrastructure as being in a state of crisis,” said report co-author Ben Juarez, in a prepared statement. “However, it is also clear that unmet needs are building at the same time that financial capacity appears to be shrinking, and that the challenges facing local transportation infrastructure in the city and county should be taken as seriously as the highly-publicized transportation infrastructure challenges facing federal and state policymakers.”

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The report assessed the general condition of city and county infrastructure and then analyzed each government’s ability to pay for future maintenance or construction costs while still complying with capital budgeting and debt management policies.

The most pressing infrastructure needs identified in the report include replacing 39 county buses — nearly a third of the county’s fleet — and reconstruction of around a quarter of all city streets.

Around 24 percent of Milwaukee’s streets are in poor condition, according to the report.

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The city needs an estimated average of $76 million annually from local, state and federal governments to address its bridge and street infrastructure improvement needs, the report found, and the county will need to spend more than $15 million annually to replace its buses.

“Both the city and county will need to increase spending over the next five years to fully meet their transportation infrastructure needs, but both face significant roadblocks in issuing more debt and both face competing needs from other governmental functions,” Juarez said. “It’s possible that new sources of federal or state support will materialize, but barring that development or identification of new local revenue sources, it will be exceedingly difficult for both governments to invest what they should while abiding by their own debt management policies.”

The report also notes the need for up to $60 million in repairs to the foundation of Milwaukee City Hall, $20 million worth of remodeling work at the Police Administration building and a new county Safety Building and court complex, which could cost more than $180 million.

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You can read the Public Policy Forum report in its entirety here.

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