Catering to Special Interests Contributes to State’s Road Deterioration

March 7, 2017

Road Damage

Higher weight limits sought by special interests are allowing heavier trucks on Wisconsin roads. But a recent Wisconsin Public Radio report revealed heavy truck traffic is the No. 1 cause of road damage and deterioration, and that the heavier trucks have come with fewer inspections to protect state roads and other drivers.

Coinciding with the contentious debate about how to pay for major state highway projects and repairs, the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker have approved several laws in recent years that have increased truck weight and size on Wisconsin highways and local roads, see here, here, and here.

Around the same time, in 2013, the state Department of Transportation proposed adding two dozen new highway inspectors and cited a study that showed overweight trucks cause $41 million in road damage each year in the state. But, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee deleted the plan from the proposed 2013-15 state budget after the committee’s co-chair, GOP Sen. Alberta Darling, of River Hills, labeled it anti-business.

Today, fewer than 100 Wisconsin State Patrol officers – the lowest number in 15 years – enforce truck weight limits, which allow commercial trucks and semitrailers to each weigh up to 80,000 pounds. The inspections also include the vehicle and its equipment to make sure the trucks don’t pose safety risks to other drivers.

Among the groups that supported the higher truck-size limits were transportation, business, agriculture, and natural resources interests. These four special interests combined doled out about $13.3 million to all legislative candidates between January 2011 and December 2016, and another $8.1 million to Walker, who signed all of the truck-size limit bills into law. Proposals to increase truck-size limits that were not included in state budgets often received bipartisan support.

Among the top recipients of campaign cash from transportation, business, natural resources and agricultural interests between January 2011 and December 2016 were the:

Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, $572,100

Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, about $561,400

GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, about $222,400

GOP Sen. Howard Marklein, about $205,000

Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, about $183,200

State Senate Democratic Committee, about $162,800

GOP Sen. Tom Tiffany, about $154,850

Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, about $153,000