The condition of our roads is undoubtedly a concern for citizens and businesses.
The cost for repairing roads, however, is becoming more and more expensive.
For example. In 2017 I budgeted for the complete reconstruction of S. 10th Street from Dewey to Viebahn. The original road was first constructed in 1929 and has been patched ever since.
The cost for the 1-mile strip will be near $1.7 million dollars.
We have 300 miles worth of road in the city.
In the 2017 budget I tripled the budget we have for what I call “pot holes”, and not just filling the potholes, completely repairing that section of the road.
Also, as you can see from my 22-point plan, I want to put $22 million back into infrastructure and roads over the next 5 years. We can do this while still lowering our debt and without raising taxes drastically thanks to the fiscal management of the city the past 8 years.
I think we can all agree the condition of our roads, in certain areas of the city, need some attention. There is no doubt that we cut back on road repair the past few years, at least from what we had historically been putting into them. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s the city invested millions of dollars into roads, especially new roads in the industrial park. While that was beneficial to the city, the leaders of those times never budgeted ways to repay those debts – which is why in 2009 we got stuck with paying off those old debts with no responsible way to do so.
The question isn’t whether or not our roads need repair; the question is how will we fund roads moving forward. This is where my opponent and I differ.
My opponent claims that the State of Wisconsin eliminating prevailing wage will affect the cost of roads and those savings can be passed along to the homeowner. First, that means no increased money will be put into roads if the cost difference is given back to the homeowner, and from the capital projects we have seen come in since prevailing wage was eliminated, we aren’t seeing costs decrease. In fact, with a most recent contract that was awarded for sidewalk repairs, the costs increased from last year.
The cost of repairing and replacing roads will only increase, regardless of prevailing wage laws. The notion that inflation and cost of doing things later by pushing them off will always be discussed. That was discussed in 2005 when I was on the City Council and we were putting millions into roads. We have 300 miles worth of road in the city, no matter how much money we put into roads in a given year we will always be behind – just like every city will tell you.
For example, this year I budgeted for the complete reconstruct of S. 10th Street from Dewey to Viebahn – arguably one of the worst roads in the city right now. That is a mile worth of road, which was originally constructed in 1929. The cost: $1.7 million dollars. Imagine if we were able to do just 5% of all our roads in one year. That would be $25.5 million dollars worth of road construction and it would take us 50 years to complete the entire city, at which point, we would have to start all over again, again, with the costs of roads increasing every year.
I know not every road needs to be fully reconstructed, but the point I want to get across is that roads are expensive and we can’t fully fund roads through the general fund or borrowing.
So what have we done.
In the 2017 budget I tripled the budget for potholes and slab replacement. We are focusing more and more on maintenance.
We have a 5-year capital plan in place that the Public Infrastructure Committee just approved. I’m not going to lie to you that over the past few years we haven’t completely followed that plan since we had to get our budget in line and lower our debt.
However, we are at a point financially where we can put larger sums of money back into roads and infrastructure. In my 22-point plan I call for investing 22 million dollars on roads and infrastructure between now and 2022. We can do this, without raising taxes or going further into debt. In fact, under my plan, we will actually reduce our debt by $10 million dollars, bringing our overall city debt from $76 million in 2009 to $40 million in 2021. You can view my 22-point plan by visiting: www.justinnickels.com
My opponent wants to start a life-cycle for putting money into roads. This sounds like a great idea, but in reality, with the vast amount of roads we have and the cost of repairing or replacing them, it would take a very long time to build up a fund to do anything. For example, if the life cycle of a road is 20 years and the cost of repairing and replacing it is $1 million dollars, you would have to set aside $50,000 a year for 20 years to get that road done. We have to take care of these roads today, not 20 years from now. Under my plan, we will focus on the priority streets listed in the 5-year capital plan, and the streets which meet the PASER rating for needed repairs. You can view that 5-year capital plan on the city’s website: www.manitowoc.org
We also need to be very aware what the State of Wisconsin is doing to fund roads. Our road maintenance budget is highly dependent upon state dollars. If the state pushes more of their money into major highways and interchanges, without finding ways to increase revenues, cities will see less aid for road repair. If that happens, that means we would need to drastically increase taxes or increase our debt to fund roads to a level that is necessary for our community.