Lack of funding forces small town roads to revert to gravel

Jackson Co., Wis. (WEAU) -- An area town is turning blacktop roads into gravel as state funding for road maintenance runs thin.

Recently a state audit found about 14-percent of local paved roads in Jackson County were in poor or very poor condition.

The Town of Northfield, north of Black River Falls, is among those struggling and has already turned 12 of its 46 miles of blacktop road to gravel since before 2010.

Two years ago Chairman Richard Erickson says Northfield began paving Horgen Road.

“They went about two-tenths of a mile and our money was gone so that's as far as we went,” recalled Erickson.

After running out of funds the town was forced to grind the blacktop to gravel to save costs up front but says it's actually pricier in the long run.

“The gravel is more expensive to maintain,” said Erickson. “Once you get it paved you have at least ten years before you have to do anything to maintain them.”

However with a budget of only $107,000 from the state, Erickson says maintaining the paving on the towns 46 miles of roads isn't feasible.

“It takes about the full year's budget to pave one mile of road because it costs about 60-80 thousand to pave a mile of road and we do have 46 miles so it takes many years to get caught up.

Local leaders like Erickson say the state has made it difficult when paying for roads saying state funding for local governments in the form of municipal aid has been cut over the last decade.

Patrolman Scott Humphrey said the town is currently using maintenance equipment that’s a minimum of 15 years old which adds to the difficulty of road maintenance and costs.

Humphrey explained, “We just try to do the best we can with the equipment to take care of the roads and make them as safe as we can without asking for more tax money.”

Governor Walker has proposed increasing local transportation aid by 8.5 percent next budget which Erickson hopes is approved but says more needs to be done.

The additional funding would be the greatest increase in a decade but would likely only amount to around $10,000 more per town for road maintenance.

“We just hope that the state sees fit to go ahead and increase the funding because all across Wisconsin the need is there in the rural roads,” added Erickson.

WEAU also spoke with the Town of Garfield’s chairman in Jackson County the town says it is facing a similar dilemma to Northfield.

Erickson says if the towns hope to maintain paved roads they may have to borrow the funds but says with around 62,000 miles of Wisconsin roads maintained by towns there is no easy solution.

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