Investing in Infrastructure and Fixing Potholes

Alderman Bauman has been a leading voice in the ongoing debate over transportation priorities and funding. He has lead common council efforts to push a “Fix it First” policy at the state and federal level that would focus transportation resources on rebuilding and maintaining existing roadways and bridges rather than focus on expensive highway expansion plans.

For many years WisDOT and the Federal Highway Administration have been obsessed with large and expensive highway expansion projects throughout the state and country. The cost of these projects coupled with reduced revenue from gasoline taxes due to reductions in driving and improvements in gas mileage have created huge deficits in the federal and state transportation funds. At the federal level Congress has had to subsidize the federal transportation fund with transfers from the general fund of over $50 Billion in the last several years. On the state level, WisDOT has had to resort to massive borrowing and transfers from the general fund (income and sales taxes) to fill deficits in the State Transportation Fund.

At the state level today so called transportation “user fees” (gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, etc.) do not generate sufficient revenue to pay for proposed projects thereby requiring subsidizes from general taxes.  This situation is not sustainable. Either spending must be cut or gas taxes and vehicle registration fees must go up. Something has to give. However, I do not believe we need to raise state gas taxes. We need to adjust our highway spending priorities to live within our means.

In addition, Alderman Bauman has lead efforts to persuade state officials to allocate more state transportation funds for the repair and maintenance of local roads. In fall, 2014, Alderman Bauman sponsored a resolution urging the state legislature to allocate a greater share of the Transportation Fund to local transportation projects.

This issue is particularly relevant today as our local roads and streets continue to deteriorate. Under Alderman Bauman’s leadership as chair of the Public Works Committee and Capital Improvements Committee additional property tax funds have been budgeted for the repair and reconstruction of major streets, bridges, local roads, sidewalks and alleys.

For example, spending on major roads has increased from $29.5 Million in 2007 to $50 Million in 2014. Similarly, spending on local roads, which is funded with property tax dollars and the local vehicle registration fee, has increased from $6.3 Million in 2007 to $13.5 Million in 2014. In 2013 the city instituted the High Impact Paving Program which does a quick milling and resurfacing of street segments. This program was funded at $1 Million in 2013 and $3 Million in 2014. As you can see, the city spent over $65 Million in street reconstruction and resurfacing in 2014 compared to a little over $35 Million in 2007.

Alderman Bauman has also made sure that our alleys and sidewalks have received increased attention. Spending on alley replacement has increased from $500,000 in 2007 to $1.7 Million in 2014 and spending on sidewalk replacement has increased from $681,250 in 2007 to $1.5 Million in 2014.

However, local property taxes and local vehicle registration fees can only go so far as our roads continue to be battered from use by city residents and businesses as well as suburban and out-of-state residents and businesses. That is why the state needs to adjust its priorities and share in the burden of maintaining local roads and streets in Milwaukee since these roads are available to and used by all citizens of the state.

Finally, under landmark legislation authored by Alderman Bauman in 2008 (File #080034) the city changed its policy of assessing abutting homeowners for part of the cost to reconstruct local streets. This change in policy has resulted in residents avoiding a costly burden and the approval of more local street reconstruction projects.