DOT Secretary visits Ellsworth
The state budget, projects and public transportation were all topics of discussion during the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Dave Ross's visit with members of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Aug. 24 at its monthly member meeting.
During his travels around the state, Ross visits with many chambers because they represent a broad participation in the community. He said the growth of these communities are connected to transportation. "You have to have a strong transportation system in order to continue to grow jobs in the state," Ross said.
During the meeting, Ross explained the DOT does not have a final approved budget yet, though the first draft was proposed in October 2016.
Currently, a lot of the budget goes to the southeast part of the state. Ross said he hopes this budget will be able to increase local road aids.
"We have started a number of very large products, which by the way we need to invest in and finish so that we can start prioritizing other parts of the state," he said.
Wisconsin spends more than most of its neighboring states, which Ross said is why he does not think raising the gas tax will solve the issue.
"It's a spending problem and not a revenue problem," he said.
In response to questions, Ross said the state is working on increasing registration for hybrid and electric cars that may pay less of the gas tax due to fuel efficiency. Even with these new vehicles, Ross said gas tax collections are not going down.
"It's still growing in the state," he said.
Though other neighboring states like Illinois use toll roads, Ross said a recent survey showed implementing tolls would not benefit Wisconsin. Doing so could mean less money from the federal government for improvement of federal roads, Ross said.
In Western Wisconsin, one of the main concerns is those commuting to Minnesota. One member asked about discussion to create public transit into the Twin Cities where many work. Ross said he wants to see people staying to work in Wisconsin, and paying Wisconsin taxes. He said the possibility of FoxConn moving to the state is one thing that will encourage that.
"We want to create better opportunities for people who work in the state," he said.
Focusing in on the nearby area, Allina Health Director of Foundation and Community Engagement Heather Logelin asked about discussions locally about public transportation between communities like Ellsworth, River Falls and Hudson.
"Roads are great for folks that have cars," she said.
Ross said the DOT has to focus not only on expanding transit, but expanding the revenue behind it. In some instances, he said the private sector can be the answer.
"The solution isn't always the public sector but it's a combination of both public and private sector investment in transportation," Ross said.