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TRIP Laments Deplorable Condition of Wisconsin Roads

Roads and bridges that are deficient, congested or lack desirable safety features cost Wisconsin motorists a total of $6 billion statewide annually – as much as $2,072 per driver in the state’s larger urban areas – due to higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays.

Increased investment in transportation improvements at the local, state and federal levels could relieve traffic congestion, improve road, bridge and transit conditions, boost safety, and support long-term economic growth in Wisconsin, according to a new report released by TRIP, a Washington, D.C., based national transportation organization.

The TRIP report, “Wisconsin Transportation by the Numbers: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe, Smooth and Efficient Mobility,” finds that throughout Wisconsin, 42 percent of major locally and state-maintained roads are in mediocre to poor condition and another 39 percent are in fair condition. Fourteen percent of Wisconsin’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The state’s major urban roads are becoming increasingly congested, with drivers wasting significant amounts of time and fuel each year. And 2,743 people were killed annually in crashes on Wisconsin’s roads from 2011 to 2015, with traffic fatalities increasing 13 percent in 2015 to 556 from 494 in 2014.

Driving on deficient roads costs each Milwaukee area driver $2,060 per year in the form of extra vehicle operating costs (VOC) as a result of driving on roads in need of repair, lost time and fuel due to congestion-related delays, and the costs of traffic crashes in which roadway features likely were a contributing factor. Drivers in the Madison urban lose an average of $2,072 annually as a result of driving on deficient roads. A breakdown of the costs per motorist in each area along with a statewide total is below.

The TRIP report finds that 56 percent of major roads in the Milwaukee urban area are in poor to mediocre condition, costing the average motorist an additional $861 each year in extra vehicle operating costs, including accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear. Sixty-eight percent of major roads in Madison are in poor to mediocre condition, costing each driver $974 each year.

“An efficient transportation infrastructure with adequate capacity is the circulatory system of a healthy economy,” said Steve Baas, senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). “Road congestion throughout our region clogs the arteries of commerce and threatens the life and health of our business climate.”

Traffic congestion in the Milwaukee area is worsening, causing 38 hours of delay a year for the average motorist and costing each driver $987 annually in lost time and wasted fuel. The average Madison driver loses 36 hours annually as a result of congestion, while the annual cost of lost time and wasted fuel for each Madison driver is $911.

A total of 14 percent of Wisconsin’s bridges show significant deterioration or do not meet modern design standards. Nine percent of Wisconsin’s bridges are structurally deficient, with significant deterioration to the bridge deck, supports or other major components. An additional five percent of the state’s bridges are functionally obsolete, which means they no longer meet modern design standards, often because of narrow lanes, inadequate clearances or poor alignment. In the Milwaukee urban area, six percent of bridges are structurally deficient and 24 percent are functionally obsolete. Nine percent of Madison area bridges are structurally deficient, while nine percent are functionally obsolete.

Wisconsin’s overall traffic fatality rate of 0.84 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel is lower than the national average of 1.08. The state’s rural roads have a traffic fatality rate that is more than double than the rate on all other roads in the state (1.24 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel versus 0.54). TRIP estimates that roadway features may be a contributing factor in approximately one-third of fatal traffic crashes.

The Federal surface transportation program is an important source of funding in Wisconsin. Signed into law in December 2015, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, provides modest increases in federal highway and transit spending, allows states greater long-term funding certainty and streamlines the federal project approval process. But the FAST Act does not provide adequate funding to meet the nation’s need for highway and transit improvements and does not include a long-term and sustainable funding source.
The efficiency and condition of Wisconsin’s transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the health of the state’s economy. Annually, $264 billion in goods are shipped from sites in Wisconsin and another $236 billion in goods are shipped to sites in Wisconsin, mostly by truck.

“These conditions are only going to get worse if greater funding is not made available at the local, state and federal levels,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director. “Without additional transportation funding Wisconsin transportation system will become increasingly deteriorated and congested, the state will miss out on opportunities for economic growth and quality of life will suffer.”