La Crosse County road construction in full swing; officials still catching up on $121 million need

WEST SALEM, Wis. (WKBT) - Road construction season is in full swing, and La Crosse County has $121 million in road needs. The La Crosse County Highway Department has several projects in the works.  

"There are two seasons in the state of Wisconsin, winter and road construction," said Ron Chamberlain, highway commissioner for La Crosse County. "La Crosse County has five construction projects this summer." 

Some of those projects include repairing a retaining wall that suffered storm damage on County Road G near Middle Ridge. There's a project on County Road SN just outside of Holmen, as well as a bridge repair just south of Rockland on County Road J.

However, road funding remains tight for the county and the state. County officials said they are doing what they can, but eventually, the state Legislature is going to have to agree on a new way to generate more money for roads. 

"We are all hurting," Chamberlain said. 

County officials are hunting for ways to catch up on the need. 

"Roads are a top priority for us," said Tara Johnson, La Crosse County Board chair.

A majority of road funding comes from tax dollars, something Chamberlain said the state Legislature won't increase. 

"Nobody likes their taxes to increase," Chamberlain said. "I don't like my taxes to increase." 

Voters in this county have been in favor of spending more money on roads. 

"Seventy-seven percent of the voters in November said, 'Yes, spend more money on roads,'" Johnson said. 

The only way for the county to catch up on the problem is to have a new source of revenue according to Johnson.

"This is a revenue problem," she said. 

Wisconsin used to have a gas tax that grew with the cost of living every year. The state took that away in 2006.

"You have to wonder why that got stopped," Johnson said. 

She said if raising taxes isn't the solution, the money has to come from somewhere. A premier resort area tax, a local retail sales tax, was one option. 

"Sixty-eight percent of La Crosse County voters in a record voter turnout election said, 'Yes, the PRAT is our preferred way of paying for roads,'" Johnson said.

But the state Legislature has yet to even consider it. 

"They didn't even give it a public hearing," Johnson said. 

She said there is little optimism for brighter days until the state budget passes the Legislature. 

"I don't see people coming together at the state level right now," Johnson said. 

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