There is a lot of work that still needs to be done to turn President Trump’s State of the Union call for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure investment into reality, but his leadership gives rise to an important opportunity and great optimism for our country’s future on a critically important topic that has big ramifications for Wisconsin.
The president’s request for a significant public-private partnership to invest in our nation’s roads, bridges, freeways, rails and waterways fuels the optimism we already have in Wisconsin today about our economy and the future. Infrastructure is, without a doubt, the backbone of our state’s economy, and this proposed federal program is an opportunity to invest in our state’s future and bolster our Wisconsin economy so that it grows even faster than it is now.
If we want to create jobs, investing in transportation is not only wise policy; it’s also a necessary step for securing our future prosperity. President Trump deserves credit for proposing this bold step. It’s also wise because it reinforces two conservative principles: first, investing in the infrastructure we already have is the right thing to do; and second, if we want to get a future return, we need to invest now. Wisconsin should join President Trump and move this plan forward.
There’s no doubt that Wisconsin has significant infrastructure needs and that we would benefit from a major federal infrastructure partnership. Indeed, a Wisconsin Department of Transportation audit from 2017 found that our state’s highways were the worst in the Midwest, and our local roads are as bad if not worse.
Gov. Walker deserves credit for investing in our rural and local road system, and our leaders in Madison need to continue to look at how we can best respond to the state’s well-documented shortfall of transportation funding. It’s encouraging to hear about efforts to take a fresh look at restarting the East West Freeway project, which is so important to the economy in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. It’s also encouraging to learn about the rejuvenated efforts to discuss and explore new state options to fill the sizable shortfall of transportation funding we face in our state.
Indeed, the East West Freeway is a main artery for a lot of local businesses and Wisconsin commerce, whether it is shipping beer and motorcycles from the Milwaukee area to points west or providing access for dairy farmers in the southwestern part of the state to our many cheesemakers up north.
If we are going to maximize the opportunities the president’s proposal presents to Wisconsin, we need to take action on the home front. Wisconsin’s highways and bridges are worsening, and our freeway system, particularly in southeast Wisconsin, needs attention. In 2018, more than 20 percent of our state highways were classified as being in poor condition, and that number is expected to more than double in the decade ahead unless we do something about it.
Right now, U.S. News & World Report ranks Wisconsin’s transportation system as 49th in the nation, and that’s not a ranking that bodes well for us. The president’s plan is a great opportunity for Wisconsin, but we have to seize the opportunity and be ready to take advantage of it.
If we make the most of the economic optimism we have in our state, we can devote our resources to rehabbing, repaving and rebuilding our roads, bridges and the rest of our transportation infrastructure.
One thing we need to do here in our state is to look at possible future revenue streams, and the president’s suggestion that we leverage public dollars using private sector investments is good advice. As the president said in his State of the Union remarks, every federal dollar should be leveraged by working with state and local governments and, when appropriate, tapping into private-sector investment – to permanently eliminate the infrastructure deficit.
Maybe that means considering tolling as an option, or maybe it means finding a new public-private partnership. The value of a public-private partnership is evident in looking at the Foxconn decision to come to Wisconsin and our state’s partnership with this international technology company.
In return for our state’s investment – which includes major highway and infrastructure projects – Wisconsin will benefit from the creation of an estimated 13,000 new jobs. Now, that’s an investment that will pay major dividends to our state and its residents, and without the infrastructure component, Foxconn probably would be building in Michigan or Ohio.
The optimism generated by the president’s infrastructure proposal fits well with the optimism we have in our state about our economic future. Additionally, the president’s call for making the most of this new federal plan runs parallel to the efforts we are making in Wisconsin with our public-private partnerships. Now is the time for all of us – job creators, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, local, state and federal officials – to join together, roll up our sleeves and direct our energies and attention to getting the people’s business done. And in this case, we can do so and make a measureable and big difference. The results will be better and safer roads and bridges, more efficient highways and rail systems and a strong economy with more promise for a better and stronger future.
This is the American moment that President Trump talked about, and now it’s our job as citizens working with our elected officials to make this plan a reality. In doing so, we will be stronger and be in a better position to make the future brighter for all Americans.
Let’s get started!
– James Hoffman is president of Hoffman Construction, Black River Falls