Deteriorating roads and bridges in Wisconsin could finally be fixed with a $ 1T infrastructure bill

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The bipartisan $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill introduced by the US Senate could mean significant investments in roads, bridges, the Internet, and water infrastructure in Wisconsin. But, Republican senators are calling for changes to how to foot the bill as House Democrats threaten to tie his fate to yet another “human infrastructure” investment proposal, such as funding tax breaks. and child care.

The approximately 2,700-page bill includes $ 550 billion in additional federal spending over the next five years for road, rail, electrical and water infrastructure. In June, President Joe Biden touted Wisconsin’s infrastructure framework and its historic investments in public transit, electric vehicle infrastructure, and high-speed internet.

The bill invests $ 110 billion in roads, bridges and major projects. Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson said the proposal would give states and local governments certainty about the funding available over the next five years.

“We plan to accelerate our state highway rehabilitation program, which is just more resources to repair our current two-lane freeways, as well as trying to get more resources for residents to get them. can fix what we already have too, “said Thompson.

Gov. Tony Evers and Republican lawmakers have agreed to roughly $ 2 billion for the state’s road reconstruction and resurfacing program as part of the budget. Still, Thompson said the list of needs is long after years of deferred maintenance on bridges, roads and other projects.

There has been no increase in the state’s gasoline tax since the state repealed a law in 2006 that allowed the tax to automatically increase with inflation. Evers proposed to increase the gasoline tax as part of the last two-year state budget, but this was rejected by Republican lawmakers.

About 7 percent of Wisconsin’s 14,271 bridges – 979 bridges – are structurally deficient, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. In its 2021 bulletin, the American Society of Civil Engineers found that more than a third of Wisconsin’s roads are in fair or poor condition. Thompson said they were working with local partners to identify and prioritize areas that could benefit from federal spending.

The legislation would spend $ 39 billion on public transit and provide more options, especially for communities of color, who are nearly six times more likely to use public transit statewide. Republican lawmakers on the state budget drafting committee cut transit funding for Milwaukee and Madison in half over the next two years, citing funding cities received through COVID-19 assistance . Thompson said the move was the “wrong way to go” and hoped the federal money would bring more investment into public transit.

The bill would also invest $ 66 billion in rail to eliminate Amtrak maintenance delays and create partnership grants for intercity rail service. This could benefit projects in Wisconsin, such as an existing $ 53 million proposal to add a second daily round trip passenger train from Twin Cities to Chicago, as well as Twin Cities’ Northern Lights Express passenger train proposal. to the Duluth and Superior area. .

“I think there may potentially be money here that will allow us to even look beyond that to other opportunities for passenger rail transportation in Wisconsin,” said Thompson.

Wisconsin has not seen significant new investments in transportation infrastructure since the creation of the Interstate Highway System 65 years ago, said John Kissinger, former chairman of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Wisconsin. He said much of the water and wastewater infrastructure in Wisconsin communities was built over a century ago.

“Primarily it’s just old and really at the end of its useful life and really should be replaced with something that’s more efficient and more modern, and works better,” Kissinger said.

The bill would provide $ 55 billion to modernize water and sewer systems. In Wisconsin alone, it is estimated that meeting future water and wastewater needs will cost the state about $ 15 billion. In the meantime, utilities often increase tariffs to cover the costs of maintaining or upgrading facilities. Smaller, more rural communities generally face a greater financial burden because there are fewer people to share these costs.

“The privilege of flushing the toilet is much, much more expensive in small communities,” said Gil Hantzsch, CEO of MSA Professional Services, a Baraboo-based engineering company that designs infrastructure projects.

The legislation would also include funding to tackle PFAS chemicals and replace lead pipes, which are more likely to impact low-income and marginalized communities. Last week, Wisconsin’s top natural resources officials said a lack of state-level funding had hampered their ability to replace the state’s more than 200,000 lead lines, adding that the project Federal infrastructure law could provide significant resources to address this.

About $ 65 billion would be set aside to expand broadband Internet. In Wisconsin, an estimated 394,000 people lack high-speed internet access at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to work and learn remotely. Despite significant state and federal investments, that number may be even higher because of how the Federal Communications Commission measures and reports access.

Internet access is more limited in rural areas of the state like northern Wisconsin where there are fewer residents, making it harder for businesses to justify investing in expensive infrastructure. Senior Mayor Jim Paine said the bill could help support a proposal to build a city-owned broadband network.

“Because the federal government has now twice stepped up the American Recovery Plan Act and now thanks to this bipartisan infrastructure bill, we’re going to be able to deliver it faster and cheaper than we ever anticipated before.” , Paine said.

Paine said the legislation would also speed up work by the city and several federal, state and tribal partners to clean up the St. Louis River, which has been named as one of the most polluted sites in the Great Lakes. The bill would add $ 1 billion in funding to a federal Great Lakes clean-up and restoration program over the next five years, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat, said the legislation is a bold, bipartisan effort that will create many jobs.

“It’s so necessary. We have ignored and failed to maintain our surface transport, our water transport, be it the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, ”Baldwin said. “And, certainly, when it comes to drinking water and wastewater, we have a lot of challenges. And, the pandemic has really shown us how vital it is to have access to broadband, whether for education, healthcare, or just to stay involved in doing business and working from home. “

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, wants senators to pass the legislation before Congress recesses for his August recess. Lawmakers have fought over how to foot the infrastructure bill, and Republicans have rejected ideas of financing investments by raising the gas tax or sharply increasing corporate taxes.

The legislation is yet to be approved by the US House, where House Democratic Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has threatened not to pass the bill without an agreement on the budget reconciliation package. Baldwin said the two bills should go hand in hand to support workers who will conduct work to repair and rebuild the country’s infrastructure.


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