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(Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) (Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

(Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

By D.L. Davis August 20, 2021

Yes, 90% of Wisconsin’s roadways are maintained by local municipalities

If Your Time is short

  • The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says the state has  115,674 miles of public roads.

  • The DOT oversees only the 11,745-mile state highway system.

  • The other 103,929 miles are maintained by the cities, towns, counties and villages in which they are located.

  • That’s 89.846% of all the roads.

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan advocated by President Joe Biden promises funding for a host of improvements aimed at shoring up the nation’s bridges, water pipes, roads and more.  

Major investments in the bipartisan package include $110 billion for roads and bridges, $39 billion for public transit and $66 billion for railways. 

In a June 29, 2021 visit to La Crosse, Biden noted his visit fell on the 65th anniversary of President Dwight Eisenhower signing a bill that created the country's interstate highway system — the last infrastructure bill of the scope being considered. 

"It's time for us to write a new chapter in that story," Biden said. 

On Aug. 10, 2021, the Senate voted 69-30 to approve an infrastructure plan crafted by a bipartisan group of senators. It is now awaiting action in the House. 

Prior to the vote, in a July 5, 2021 interview on WISN’s "UpFront," Wisconsin’s Secretary of Transportation-designee Craig Thompson urged support for the measure. 

"If we get more federal money, I think people will see simply the condition of the roads, both at the state and local levels, improve," Thompson said, arguing that under Gov. Tony Evers the state had slowed a trend of "disinvestment and neglect" of Wisconsin's roads. 

"I believe we have stopped the decline in the condition of our state highways," Thompson said. "We've gotten more money to the locals. But we’ve got 115,000 miles of roads in this state and 90% is owned by the locals. They just have a lot of roadway and they’ve got a long way to go." 

That’s a lot of miles.

Is Thompson accurate on the breakdown?

Featured Fact-check

Miles and miles of roads

Joel Nilsestuen, assistant deputy secretary at the Department of Transportation, pointed PolitiFact Wisconsin to a document "Six Year Highway Improvement Program: 2021-2026." 

It included this note:

Wisconsin has 115,674 miles of public roads, from Interstate freeways to city and village streets. This highway improvement program covers only the 11,745-mile state highway system which is administered and maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). The other 103,929 miles are improved and maintained by the cities, towns, counties and villages in which they are located.

A side note: That measurement is of "centerline miles," of the length of the roadways, not lane miles which take into account multiple lanes. By that measure, Dane County comes out on top, with 4,260.44, followed by Marathon County (3,389.19), Waukesha County (3,120.90) then Milwaukee County (3,047.94) and Marinette County (2,363.06).

Curt Witynski, deputy executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said the group supports the infrastructure plan and that he expects local governments to benefit from the measure through "Funding for improving our transportation infrastructure, including bridges and streets, but also alternative transportation options, like bike paths and lanes.  Also, we anticipate benefits to our municipal bus systems." 

It is too early to say how much Wisconsin could be allocated from the new federal infrastructure measure, or what percentage will go to the state vs. local units of government.

But that was not part of the claim.

Our ruling 

Thompson said "we’ve got 115,000 miles of roads in this state and 90% is owned by the locals."

Wisconsin has 115,674 miles of public roads and maintains the 11,745-mile state highway system. The other 103,929 miles are maintained by local municipalities, or 89.846%.

For a statement that is accurate and not missing anything significant, our rating is True.

 

Our Sources

WISN "UpFront" Craig Thompson, July 5, 2021

Email, Joel Nilsestuen, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, August 9, 2021.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Joe Biden shifts his focus from agriculture to infrastructure in his visit to Wisconsin," June 29, 2021.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation "Six Year Highway Improvement Program: 2021-2026"

Associated Press, "Big win for $1T infrastructure bill: Senate shows it can act," August 10, 2021.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Tony Evers signs Republican-written state budget that cuts income taxes, announces $100 million more for schools," July 8, 2021.

 

USA Today "Infrastructure bill passes Senate, sending Biden's plan for roads, bridges and broadband to the House," August 10, 2021

State of Wisconsin Budget in Brief 2021-23, Feb. 2021.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation "2019 Vehicle Miles of Travel (VMT) by County."

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Evers-O-Meter, "Increase spending on local road maintenance," July 23, 2021.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by D.L. Davis

Yes, 90% of Wisconsin’s roadways are maintained by local municipalities

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