Roadbuilders want new roads, not repairs

Monday, January 19, 2009

From an article by Paul Snyder in The Daily Reporter about the road builders' response to the call from the Coalition for Wisconsin’s Green Economy, which includes RENEW Wisconsin, to repair existing roads:
Road builders dispute an environmental coalition’s claim that the best way to fix state highways is to repair what’s there and avoid expansion.

The Coalition for Wisconsin’s Green Economy on Tuesday issued a blueprint for the best way to spend federal stimulus money. In terms of transportation, the coalition argues the state should put maintenance and repair ahead of new construction.

“We’re having trouble keeping our existing infrastructure up to date,” said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and a member of the coalition. “The more we build, the more we have to maintain. Should we do that when we’ve already shown we can’t maintain what we have?”

Hiniker, echoing the coalition’s blueprint, said by fixing existing roads, the state will retain jobs and avoid inefficient development that promotes sprawl, increases fuel consumption and releases climate-change emissions.

Hiniker said he considers highway expansion work new construction.

And that’s where road builders take issue with the coalition’s “fix it first” plan.

There are several highway expansion projects on the state’s federal stimulus wish list, and that work on the interstate system times out well with the need for repairs, said Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.

“Why would we simply tear it up and fix what’s already there?” he said. “That would be short-sighted and foolish. We can look at increasing capacity at the same time we’re tearing it up.”

Terry McGowan, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, agreed.

“If you’re going to fix something, fix it right,” he said. “When I hear ‘repairs,’ I think of patching potholes, and, frankly, there are only so many patches you can put on an old tire.

“When (the American Society of Civil Engineers) rates our transportation infrastructure at a ‘D,’ what is there to repair? You have to overhaul the whole system.”

Robert Kraig, program director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin and a spokesman for the coalition, said most of the $630.7 million of work, which includes repairs and expansion, the state says it could turn around within 120 days for federal stimulus money is the kind of work the coalition wants.