Wisconsin scores poorly on roads, but keeps down fatalities

By: - August 28, 2019 7:00 am
picture of a truck on a bumpy WI highway

Wisconsin State Highway 113 (By Corey Coyle, licensed under CCA 3.0 Unported)

The lousy condition of Wisconsin roads is old news. Crumbling infrastructure has been a problem for some time in Wisconsin. Last fall, as rural areas went from pavement back to gravel roads, the issue played a big role in the governor’s race, helping Gov. Tony Evers beat then-Gov. Scott Walker with his campaign cry, “Fix the damn roads!” 

So it isn’t a big surprise that Wiscaonsin roads are rated as being in “bad” shape in the Reason Foundation’s annual report, based on data the group gathered over the past several years. Wisconsin came in 38th among all states and ranked worst in the Midwest. But apparently while Wisconsin roads were deteriorating, many other states were making incremental improvements. Until this report. 

“In looking at the nation’s highway system as a whole, there was a decades-long trend of incremental improvement in most key categories, but the overall condition of the highway system has worsened in recent years,” says Baruch Feigenbaum, lead author of the Annual Highway Report and assistant director of transportation at Reason Foundation. (The Libertarian group touts its magazine and think tank, which have been around since the 60s, as promoting Libertarian principles of free-markets, liberty and individual choice. Maintaining a functional infrastructure is also, apparently, a libertarian value, and the Reason Foundation is considered a reputable source of transportation data by government agencies, including the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Not surprisingly, the libertarian group promotes the idea of outsourcing infrastructure projects to private entities as a good solution to the nation’s infrastructure woes). 

Spokesperson Kristin McHugh at the Wisconsin state Department of Transportation, said that they received the report and took an initial look at the content and, “we can say that the rankings reported for Wisconsin are less than desired but are also indicative of years of underfunding.”

McHugh added a pitch that things will get better: “Fortunately the 2019-21 budget brings a significant (20%) increase to the state highway rehabilitation program; this will help address system condition needs. The current budget also includes the lowest level of borrowing in 20 years — an important step to ensure that funding goes to improvements rather than toward debt service.”

This particular study by the libertarian group looks at a wide variety of factors surrounding highways, including fatalities in urban and rural areas, as well as congestion. A lower fatality rating in multiple categories helps boost Wisconsin’s otherwise bad rankings. The areas where Wisconsin did best are in urban fatality rate (7th) and overall fatality rate (12th).

Wisconsin’s worst rankings are in rural arterial pavement condition (45th) and rural Interstate pavement condition (44th).

“To improve in the rankings, Wisconsin needs to improve its pavement conditions,” writes Feigenbaum. “The state is in the bottom 10 in three of the four pavement categories (rural Interstate pavement condition, rural arterial pavement condition, urban arterial pavement condition).”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.