A Thousand Miles of Crumbling Roads in Milwaukee

MacIver News Service | April 27, 2017

By Bill Osmulski

[Milwaukee] There’s no getting around the fact Milwaukee’s roads are in terrible condition, but there’s nothing the state can do to change that. Solving the problem depends entirely on the local city government making road maintenance and improvement a priority.

The city government bears the sole responsibility for maintaining 987 out of 1,273 miles of roads in Milwaukee. It cannot use any state or federal aid to maintain or improve those roads.

Out of a total budget of $1.5 billion, the City of Milwaukee budgeted a mere $16 million for Local Streets and High Impact Streets in 2017. That will address only 30 miles of city streets this year. At that rate, it will take Milwaukee 30 years to get to all the 987 miles it’s responsible for.

Meanwhile in Madison, lawmakers are calling for more local aids, seemingly unaware that even if they increase funding, it won’t do local governments much good. The City of Milwaukee can only use that aid on 286 miles (22 percent) of its roads. And even then, it is limited on what it can spend that money on. For example, Local Road Improvement Program funds can’t be used for routine maintenance like filling potholes and sealing cracks. General Transportation Aids can be applied to a wider range of projects, but it is merely meant to “partially offset” costs to local government.

That means, the ultimate responsibility for local roads lies with local government. It doesn’t matter what state lawmakers decide to do with transportation, roads in cities like Milwaukee will stay in terrible condition until the local government decides to make road improvement a priority.