Transportation consultant says Wisconsin will face funding ‘crisis’

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:29 pm

    Funding alternatives, such as tollways, to pay for major highway improvements in Wisconsin will be discussed during a June 22 forum.
    The event will be hosted by The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) and Soucie & Associates, a Milwaukee-based transportation consulting firm.
    Revenue from the state’s gas tax will not be enough to pay for about $5 billion in highway projects planned for the next 20 years in the Milwaukee area, including the expansion of the region’s freeways to four lanes and rebuilding the Zoo and Hale interchanges, said Peter Beitzel, MMAC vice president.
    Unless something is done to find other revenue sources, the state will face a funding crisis for those transportation improvements, he said.
    "There’s an issue of lack of funding for transportation projects," Beitzel said. "We’ve got a problem in the long term. How are we going to solve it? We’ve got to have a dialog before the crisis hits. We want people to come up with ideas."
    "We are approaching a transportation funding crisis," said Kevin Soucie, a transportation consultant and a former member of the state legislature. "It’s not really on the radar yet, but it will be."
    Soucie is an advocate of public-private partnerships for road projects. For the Marquette Interchange project, he had recommended seeking private investors to pay for the $810 million reconstruction and then charge tolls to users.
    Under his proposal, the tolls would have been levied electronically, rather than by Illinois-style toll booths. After about 20 or 30 years, when the interchange was paid for, it would be given back to the state in good condition, under Soucie’s proposal.
    Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has said in the past he will never support tolls on Wisconsin roads. A combination of state and federal funds is paying for the Marquette Interchange reconstruction.
    The state’s money for road projects comes from gasoline taxes, which increase each year automatically, and vehicle registration fees. However, Soucie and Beitzel said those funds will not be enough for future road projects in the Milwaukee area.
    Therefore, they said, new funding sources must be explored, including tolls.
    The summit will include discussions about other sources of revenue for transportation projects besides tolls such as sales taxes and general state revenues, Beitzel said. It also will review mass transportation as an option to lessen maintenance costs for highways by reducing traffic and the wear and tear it causes for the roads.
    "We want people to come up with ideas," he said.
    Soucie says his public-private partnership idea to funding road projects is an alternative to tax increases and big-government spending.
    "The world is changing," he said. "The model we used to fund transportation is changing. It’s changing from the top-down, big-government taxation model to a market-based model."
    Road users, not taxpayers, should fund the road improvements, and the improvements should be built by private investors who respond to market demands, Soucie said.
    Another option, which is being done in California, is to have express toll lanes running next to traffic-congested free lanes, said Soucie, who added he does not understand opposition to tolls.
    "Mass transportation users are charged a toll every time they ride the bus," he said. "Nobody seems to have a problem with that."
    The summit will be held June 22 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Milwaukee. In addition to Soucie, presenters will include: Mary Peters, administrator of the U.S. Federal Highway Administration; U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, Minnesota; and U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisconsin, who is the chairman of the House Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee.
    May 14, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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