Farmers say bridge funding falls short
Some farmers say additional funding for bridge projects in Wisconsin won't repair bridges that are vital to them accessing their crops and bringing them to market.
Columbia County farmer Cal Dalton says closed bridges near the farms he works at slows him and his machinery operators down.
"The problem is they've been closing some roads and bridges on us, mostly because the bridges are failing," Dalton said.
One of those bridges is on County Highway CM over the Fox River in Columbia County. A few years ago the weight limit on the bridge was lowered to 20 tons.
"Because this is posted for 20 ton we can't get across it with most of our equipment and so we have to drive three and a half miles out of our way," Dalton said.
He says making that trip disrupts other traffic patters, can block traffic on busy roads and can damage other roads and bridges that haven't been equip to handle heavy, modern farming equipment.
He says the bridges that can't handle farming equipment could cost farmers money.
"If we keep losing bridges we're not going to be able to operate our business," Dalton said.
The Columbia County Highway Commissioner, Chris Hardy, said the county and state have a complex standard for calculating which bridges are in need of repairs.
He said even though some bridges are not in good enough condition to handle heavy farming equipment, they may not be in poor enough condition to qualify for some state and federal funding.
On Thursday the Joint Finance Committee approved putting another $7.4 million towards repairing hundreds of bridges in Wisconsin.
One of the lawmakers that chairs that committee, State Rep. John Nygren (R - Marinette) said in a statement:
“We are confident that the action taken by the Finance Committee yesterday will fully fund all local bridge projects. These dollars will repair or replace every bridge local governments identified as needing repair."
Another lawmaker in the committee, State Rep. Tom Tiffany (R - Hazelhurst) said in a statement:
"In the 2017-19 biennial budget, the state legislature invested an additional $20 million into the Local Bridge Improvement Assistance Program for a total of nearly $90 million. In addition, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has taken great steps to help generate significant cost savings. This includes implementing the replace-in-kind policy and streamlining DOT oversight which has allowed for more projects to be completed."
A spokesperson for his office said all of the bridges that qualified under the state and federal standards received funding.