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FUNDING THE PLAN

A financial analysis identified a significant funding gap between reasonably expected revenues and the estimated costs to implement the VISION 2050 transportation system. Without additional funding, the significant improvement and expansion of the Region’s public transit system and the expansion and reconstruction of roadways recommended in the plan will not be possible. The 2020 Review and Update identifies the fiscally constrained portion of the public transit and arterial street and highway systems. This is the portion of the plan that can be implemented without additional funding.


The financial analysis presents potential funding sources that could be considered, along with estimates of the revenue each source could potentially generate on an annual basis. Increasing funding to address the transportation funding gap in the Region will require State action and may also need support from federal or local elected officials.

THE TRANSPORTATON FUNDING GAP

VISION 2050 identified a funding gap between the expected average annual funding available and the expected average annual cost that would be needed to support the implementation of the public transit and arterial streets and highways portions of the plan. Specifically, the analysis updated in 2020 identified a $250 million annual funding gap for public transit and a $385 million annual funding gap for the arterial street and highway portions of the plan.

CONSEQUENCES OF INSUFFICIENT TRANSPORTATION FUNDING

PUBLIC TRANSIT

The funding gap for public transit is expected to result in a 35 percent reduction in transit services levels by 2050--rather than a doubling of service as recommended under VISION 2050. Consequences for this reduction in service include:

  • Reduced access to jobs, healthcare, education, and other daily needs, particularly for households without access to a car, which is more likely to affect people of color, low-income residents, people with disabilities, and seniors

  • Smaller labor force available to employers

  • Reduced traffic carrying capacity in the Region's heavily traveled corridors

  • Reduced ability to develop compact, walkable neighborhoods that improve access and safety for people walking, and encourage active lifestyles

STREETS AND HIGHWAYS

The funding gap for the streets and highways portion of the plan is expected to result in fewer roads being reconstructed, widened, or newly built. In addition, many roadways recommended to be reconstructed by 2050 would instead be rehabilitated, which would extend the overall life of the existing roadways but would likely reduce pavement quality. Consequences for postponing freeway reconstruction and not adding capacity on highly congested segments include: 

  • Costly emergency repairs and inefficient pavement maintenance due to unnecessary (and increasingly ineffective) repaving projects

  • Increased traffic congestion and travel delays, along with decreased travel reliability

  • Increased crashes due to traffic congestion, outdated roadway design, and deteriorating roadway conditions

POTENTIAL REVENUE SOURCES TO ADDRESS THE TRANSPORTATION FUNDING GAP

A local sales tax is a common source of local funding for public transit in other parts of the country. Funding public transit through a sales tax in the Region would involve an increase in existing sales tax rates.

A local wheel tax (vehicle registration fee) can be used to increase funding for transportation at the local level. Currently, 12 counties and 28 cities, towns, and villages in Wisconsin have enacted local wheel taxes. This would require an increase in the existing vehicle registration fee.

The gas tax is a primary revenue source for transportation funding at both the state and federal levels. Improvements in fuel efficiency continue to reduce the effectiveness of this revenue source, which is not currently indexed to inflation. This would require an increase in the existing gas tax.

Implementing a vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) fee would involve charging a fee to drivers of passenger vehicles and light trucks based on the total distance they drive during a year. This revenue source is currently being studied by several states.

A highway use fee would involve charging a one-time fee on new passenger vehicle purchases based on a percent of the MSRP.

Tolling, which has recently been studied by WisDOT, would require a motorist to pay a fee to use a particular highway facility.