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OPINION: Next DOT secretary must continue reforms

On Friday, Gov.-elect Tony Evers announced his nominee for secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is Craig Thompson, who is now  executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin. This appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, and my vote for confirmation will be based on a few considerations.

There are various reforms that have been carried out by WisDOT in the past few years to more effectively spend the $3 billion the department receives in its yearly budgets. They include policies known as Replace-In-Kind, bridge strengthening and asset management.

Replace-In-Kind is a policy that allows infrastructure to be replaced with something comparable when safety is not compromised. Bridge strengthening allows bridges to be repaired to meet safety standards rather than, as was required in the past, completely replaced. After all, if a bridge can be repaired for $100,000, why replace it for $500,000 to a million dollars?

In particular, I urge Mr. Evers and the new WisDOT secretary to continue the state’s Asset Management Program. Asset management ensures we repair only what needs repairing. It provides maintenance to roads early on to prevent the need for costly repairs later. The Federal Highway Administration uses asset management.

When the Interstate 94 project is completed south of Milwaukee, we will have spent more than $3 billion in a little more than a decade on three big projects: the Zoo and Marquette interchanges and Interstate 94. This spending was needed because those highways move most of our commerce in Wisconsin.

Now it’s time to take a time-out from megaprojects of this sort to maintain the rest of our transportation infrastructure in Wisconsin. A good starting place is Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal this fall to give counties and towns the biggest increase in transportation aid they’ve seen in our state’s history.

I believe we can improve our transportation system without raising taxes by using innovation and discipline. The Department of Revenue projects the state will receive two billion dollars more in revenue from taxpayers in the next biennium. If more money is needed for transportation, it should come from growth in the general fund.

It seems taxpayers agree. In the final two polls conducted by Marquette University this fall, more than 60 percent of the respondents said “no” to increased gas taxes. In the waning days of the election, Mr. Evers said he will not raise taxes. Along with many voters, I will hold Gov.-elect Evers and his DOT nominee to his word.

State Sen. Tom Tiffany is a Republican from Minocqua who represents Wisconsin’s 12th Senate District.

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