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Towns create gravel roads amid tight state budget

NORTHFIELD, Wis. (AP) — Officials in small Wisconsin towns say construction costs and budget cuts from the state government have caused them to convert their blacktop roads to gravel.

State funding for local governments in the form of municipal aid has been cut over the last 10 years as local transportation funding has remained roughly flat, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The state has also limited how much towns can raise from local property taxes — restrictions that grew stricter under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The governor has proposed increasing local transportation aid by 8.5 percent in the next budget. According to the Wisconsin Towns Association, it would translate to about $10,000 for the average town, enough for road maintenance, but not much else.

Rebuilding a damaged road with gravel is cheaper than pavement up front, but a gravel road’s maintenance costs are much higher.

“So (towns) have a choice,” said Mike Koles, director of the association. “Do we take it from what we have now, that is a safety hazard, and turn it into gravel, which is not a safety hazard? Or do we borrow money to try to fix it the right way?”

Northfield has turned 12 miles of paved roads into gravel since 2010, according to Richard Erickson, town chairman. Two years ago, the town of 600 in Jackson County repaired the intersection of a road, but the blacktop they were able to order only lasted two-tenths of a mile.

“You’re not forced directly to go to it, but you end up doing it,” Erickson said. “We have to try and keep the roads somewhat smooth so people can drive on them, and when the funds are short, it’s just the best thing we could do.”

A recent state audit found that about 14 percent of local paved roads in Jackson County were in poor or very poor condition. Towns maintain 62,000 miles of roads in Wisconsin.


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