Eleven of twelve Republican members of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted last week to support a key element of Governor Tony Evers’ transportation budget.

This map explains the vote. It highlights projects in the four corners of the state that would be delayed or cancelled without additional funding for the state Highway Rehabilitation Plan.    

Last month Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Craig Thompson released a list of 212 such projects. As I observed at the time, the list was organized by legislative district. Every member of the Assembly and Senate could thus see the impact of agreeing with legislative Republicans who oppose Evers’ plan. The prospect of localized versions of this map appearing in campaign literature next year is clear.

The influential League of Wisconsin Municipalities issued a statement when the map and list of projects were released. Titled “212 Roads to Somewhere,” it said in part:

The Wisconsin Legislature is deciding this spring whether or not to delay main street in 212 Wisconsin Cities, Villages and Towns…Each of those projects is a vital piece of a community’s economic success…

We admit that the “State Highway Rehabilitation Program” is a name only a bureaucratic mother could love…What’s the connection to downtown Wisconsin? It’s not local transportation aids. Why should we care?

We do care, because all roads in Wisconsin lead somewhere. For example, one of those 212 projects would resurface Highway 172 in the Green Bay Area; the highway that leads to the Brown County Airport. Another project would replace a critical bridge on Highways 59 and 18 in the City of Waukesha. One more resurfaces the road that runs through the Village of Athens in Marathon County. Project after project affects city after city, village after village and town after town. It’s all connected…

State highways are the links between Wisconsin’s 602 cities and villages; they are also often the main thoroughfares through those communities. They carry farm products, manufacturing equipment, school buses, ambulances and the tens of thousands of family vehicles traveling back and forth every day. Without a quality network of these roads linking local roads and the highway system, it gets harder to get to work, to get to school, and to get emergency services to people who need them…

Take a look at the list…Chances are you’ll find a road that you drive on listed there. Think about that particular stretch of road. What happens to your village if that project doesn’t get done next year; or the year after; or maybe just doesn’t get done? Whose job is affected; whose school is affected; which ambulance has to be rerouted?

Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) was the sole Republican to vote against the motion approved last week.  

“I don’t have a lot of faith in our transportation secretary, who used to be a road-builder lobbyist,” Stroebel said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Patrick Marley also reported for the newspaper:

The plan also drew opposition from Republican Sen. Steve Nass of Whitewater, who said in a statement the deal may cause him to oppose the budget.

“Tonight is a big win for the road building special interests and a big loss for the taxpayers,” said Nass…Republicans control the Senate 19-14. With Democrats united against the GOP version of the budget, Republicans can’t afford to lose more than two votes.

In the next few weeks we will know whether GOP opponents of the Evers road plan can block it in the Senate (Assembly approval is seen as likely). Count on the map to be an important part of the discussion.

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