It is no secret I think the legislature continues to let the public down with their refusal to find a responsible and sustainable transportation budget that will stop needless construction delays and improve our second-worst-in-the-nation roads.
While that fight will have to continue to be waged, the legislature did pass several reforms aimed at making road construction more efficient and more affordable and making sure the public is more aware of what is being spent where.
Yet some are balking at one of these cost saving reforms.
For years the costs of building roads have been higher than necessary because the aggregate used has to be hauled farther distances because of Wisconsin’s patchwork regulations on quarries.
Local ordinances have discouraged the opening and operation of quarries by imposing restrictions on their opporations and forcing new and increasing compliance costs. These costs impact the state budget. Big time.
For road construction projects, massive amounts of aggregate are needed – often several hundred thousand tons. Adding just a little bit to the cost of hauling this aggregate gets compounded quickly. Each trip of each dump truck, multiplied by each job site – the math is staggering. This month the legislature included a provision in the budget that would increase the likelihood that road construction aggregate is quarried from places closer to each project. This is important because the further a supplier is from a project, the more expensive it is to haul.
Think gas costs a lot for you? Consider how much more diesel fuel is burned to haul a full truck of rock an additional 10 miles. Now multiply that by hundreds or thousands of trips…for each project.
In talking to folks in the industry, even I was amazed at how much savings can be realized. The quarry permitting reforms in the budget can save taxpayers millions of dollars.
Here is just one example.The Highway 73 Interchange in Deerfield, where Highways 12/18 intersect with Highway 73, required a whopping 250,000 tons of aggregate. This took more than 12,000 truckloads to transport from a quarry to the job site. A quarry in Deerfield was chosen because it was only 2 minutes away. Had the state DOT had to rely upon the next-closest quarry, the project would have run $610,000 more just because the second-closest quarry would have been an additional 15 minutes away.
The good news is the closer quarry was able to be used. But what if that’s not always the case?
Let’s examine the I-39/90 project as an example. That bid called for approximately 400,000 tons of aggregate, requiring around 19,500 truckloads. (These big projects are bigger than I think most of us outside of the industry can really comprehend…think about that, 19,500 truckloads!). Anyway, that same Deerfield quarry mentioned above was the closest site, but it was prohibited from making the bid due to blasting ordinances imposed by the town (imagine having to follow the regulatory framework of 400 mini DNRs!). So the quarry that was chosen to supply the aggregate for this project was seven minutes father from the first. Those seven minutes, multiplied by the 19,500 truckloads, jacked the price of this project by more than $450,000!
So while I wished the legislature would have done the right thing with transportation funding, the quarrying provision in the budget at least will help keep costs down. These savings are passed down to you and I.
Yet, some are calling for this provision to be vetoed, a move that doesn’t make much sense to me.
Some think it poses a threat to the environment. Yet, the DNR will still be regulating these quarries.
Others say it’s unfair to single out aggregate, and they want all quarries to be included. Well, that’s like arguing to veto a tax cut because it’s not large enough. Embrace the pro-taxpayer position when you can, for crying out loud.
According to press accounts I’ve read, the Counties and Town associations say they are ok with this compromise, and this provision will save tax dollars.
If we refuse to improve the condition of the transportation fund in this state, we should at least do what we can to keep the costs down.