Shortly after being nominated for the position, Wisconsin DOT Secretary Nominee Craig Thompson assembled the “Transportation Stakeholder Task Force”. (TSTF) We’re very thankful and appreciative that Secretary Thompson recognizes the value of forestry for Wisconsin and invited GLTPA to participate on the Task Force regarding one of industries top issues; transportation.
The TSTF was comprised of 34 members from a wide spectrum of transportation users including bicyclists, land use planners, tourism, farming, forest products, aging associations, counties, towns and every form of transportation imaginable. The purpose of the TSFT was to identify areas of transportation deficiencies and possible recommendations to address them. Perhaps the most important role of the TSFT was to assist the governor by providing information in preparation for his first state budget. The TSTF met only two times so there were no formal votes taken for transportation recommendations. There was, however, a process used leading to consensus in the group regarding certain funding sources which may provide significant input for the governor’s transportation budget. Hopefully the governor’s budget is public by the time this message is printed.
Listening to the needs/wants of other transportation users was educational and I was very impressed at the openness of the participants. They listened and asked questions of other sectors and then identified issues within their sector. As one might guess, discussion focused on increased use of all types of transportation and funding needs to support increased investment in the infrastructure. This is where needs and wants start separating themselves and where reality sets in. It’s easy to come up with the wish list however, who pays the bill is another subject and will be a fine debate between the legislature and governor.
In representing the forest industry on the task force, GLTPA is very committed to more of an equitable split of revenue for towns and providing counties with enough revenue to maintain their roads to an adequate standard keeping commerce moving forward without restriction. If the facts are taken into consideration, WI town government has 62,000 miles of roads comprising just over 53% of the transportation system. What’s out of whack is they receive only 5% of the funding pot. The reality is, without additional money and the procedure for shared revenue continues its current course, the replacement cycle according to WI Towns Association, is something like 371 years for a blacktop on local roads. And that’s maintaining them at a pre 20th century level. Aren’t we in the 21st century? How inequitable is that
This scenario is nearly identical for Michigan. What’s titled as Category E and A Money is twenty-eight years behind to even keep pace with inflation. It’s very difficult for counties to support industry needs for adequate haul routes. Keep in mind these roads are also used by hunters and recreationalist which, at certain times of the year, adds contention if these roads aren’t smooth enough for urban adventurers to drive on. Category E has been funded at the $5 million level since it was first initiated by the Timberman around 1989. By mathematical calculation those funds should be closer to $20 million annually.
Forestry, farming and mining (gravel pits etc.) are totally dependent on what’s termed as the “first mile” to get their products off the fields, out of the mines and out of the forest. Furthermore, the rest of society is totally dependent on these natural resource products for their wellbeing. No timber, no jobs for thousands of paper, saw, pellet or OSB mill workers. No milk, no cheese factory. No crops, no work for food processing plants. No gravel, no blacktop, cement or gravel roads. This is not rocket science. If industry can’t get the raw material to market everyone suffers.
Speaking for the forest industry and from personal experience as a logger, many loggers and wood consumers have invested thousands of dollars for gravel and grading on roads for which road aids have been paid. Despite these good neighbor actions, the use of weight limits and “Class B” restrictions have increased dramatically as local governments try to increase the life of roads already several years beyond their projected life expectancy. It’s a serious issue because it compounds itself negatively. More restrictions lead to a higher cost of doing business. The higher the cost of doing business, the less competitive industry becomes and that’s not a good scenario in world-wide market place.
Wisconsin will begin debate on the budget soon and it seems safe to say there will be some sort of increase in funding needed for transportation. Question is how will funding be increased and how will it be divided. Many members from the logging industry are willing to contribute more money but there is an expected return on investment. The reason for weight restrictions at the local is based on funding 100% of the time. If more money goes in, it makes sense the return on investment should less restrictions.Until next month,