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Cities brace for cuts to road money

Sean Ryan
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Wisconsin public works directors on July 6 will feel the first cut in the state’s reduction in road-maintenance money for cities.

Municipalities will get 6.13 percent less in the July payment from the state’s Connecting Highway Aid program, which provides money to maintain, plow and police local roads that link to interstates. The program provided $12.85 million to cities in the past fiscal year, but the new state budget offers $12.06 million annually for 2010 and 2011.

A $7,300 reduction in La Crosse’s July check means the city will receive a total of $112,171. As the state continues cutting its contribution to city roadwork, La Crosse can either cut services or pull money from local street projects to pay for connecting highways, said Dale Hexom, La Crosse director of public works.

“You are going to see some reduction in the levels of service and some accelerated deterioration,” he said.

Cuts in the state budget will eliminate $57,805 from Milwaukee’s highway aid, said Jeff Mantes, city commissioner of public works. He said his department is still reviewing the state budget to see what the statewide reduction will mean for Milwaukee in 2010.

Mantes said his department will send its 2010 budget plan to the mayor’s office in August.

“You have to make decisions as to: Do you spend money on maintenance or do you spend your money on something else?” he said. “And I don’t know what something else might be.”

The reductions put municipalities in a tough spot because connecting highways — local roads that link populated areas to freeways — are not good places to reduce maintenance work, said Ed Huck, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities.

“Those aids are really critical to maintain the roads that are pretty much where commerce and people and business flow,” he said.

Cheryl Sment, president and owner of Interstate Sealant & Concrete Inc., Waukesha, said her company does most of its work in other states — such as South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado — where local governments bid more maintenance projects. She said municipal maintenance contracts account for only about 1 percent of Interstate’s annual workload. But the $800,000 a year that was trimmed from Wisconsin’s budget would pay for four to eight municipal maintenance contracts, she said.

By spending less money on maintenance — such as filling cracks that develop and widen in streets — the state faces larger bills in the future because roads must be reconstructed more often, Sment said.

“I think they are not looking at the bigger picture,” she said, “which is the longevity of our roads.”

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