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Governor Evers’ Biennial Budget:  It’s Time To Do The Right Thing

This is a guest post by Kirsten Finn, executive director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed. The article was originally published on the Bike Fed website.

View of the Wisconsin State Capitol from State Street. A group of people on bikes rides through the foreground.

In the overview of Governor Evers’ 2023-2025 budget he acknowledges that, with a $7 billion dollar state surplus, it is time to invest in Wisconsin’s future by addressing long neglected needs and “doing the right thing” instead of just getting by. One of the “right things” that the Governor’s budget addresses is addressing Wisconsin’s long neglected active transportation network.

According to the League of American Bicyclists most recent Bicycle Friendly States Rankings, Wisconsin currently ranks 49th out of 50 states in the amount of money we spend on biking and walking at just $.85 per capita. Under the new federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, also called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, or BIL), there is significantly more money available for biking and walking.

Once stuck at $7.4 million dollars annually, the Governor’s budget calls for $18.2 million annually for the Transportation Alternatives Plan (TAP). The Bike Fed encourages WisDOT to appropriate even more of the available Federal dollars for TAP so that Wisconsin can match the national average of spending 2.2% of its transportation on biking and walking. However, this increase will allow us to address many critical bike/ped projects around the State.

Since the beginning of the year, Bike Fed has partnered with WisDOT to help small communities access TAP funding by providing technical assistance in developing proposals. We have learned that rural communities have a dire need for TAP dollars to improve safety for people biking and walking, but the required 20% local match often means they are unable to apply. 

Neighboring states are using Highway Safety Improvement (HSIP) dollars or toll revenue to address this issue, but Wisconsin has not previously provided support to small communities. The Bike Fed raised this concern with the Governor’s staff and, in response, Governor Evers has proposed $1.2 million annually to provide matching funds for TAP projects for small communities. Additionally, the Governor included $60 million for traffic calming grants to combat reckless driving and make biking, running and walking safer. 

The Governor’s budget also calls for two pieces of bike-friendly legislation that are critical to Wisconsin being a truly great state for cycling. A Complete Streets Policy prioritizes the safety of all roadway users over the speed of moving cars. In 2009 the Wisconsin state legislature passed a Complete Streets Law which in part stated that the Wisconsin DOT shall refuse to provide any state and federal funds to highway reconstruction projects that don’t include bicycle and pedestrian ways – i.e. sidewalks and/or marked or unmarked bike lanes. In 2015, the statute was altered to make Complete Streets a consideration, but not a requirement. Governor Evers’s proposal to make Complete Streets a requirement would eliminate the necessity of offering traffic calming grants to re-engineer streets that are built with no regard to cyclists and pedestrian safety in the future.

For the past two years, the Bike Fed has participated in the Wisconsin Non-Driver Advisory Council and Governor Evers’ budget provides further support for people who do not drive cars – including teens, the elderly and people with disabilities – to access employment, healthcare and recreation opportunities by increasing state support of mass transit by 4% each calendar year.

Finally, the Governor also recommends giving local units of government the authority to use eminent domain to purchase land for the construction of nonmotorized paths. Extending the same common sense policy to acquiring easements for sidewalks and bike paths that is used for building or expanding roads for cars, would enable Wisconsin to finish critical links in our State’s cycling network.

Cycling is good for Wisconsinites, and good for Wisconsin’s economy.  The University of Wisconsin 2019 study concludes that cycling contributes over $2.52 billion dollars to our economy each year. The Bike Fed supports Governor Evers’ proposed investments in programs that will improve the safety and convenience of Wisconsin’s cycling infrastructure. 

The Governor’s budget can be viewed on the State of Wisconsin website. The Bike Fed will hold an Advocacy Day at the State Capitol on Thursday, March 9th to support budget proposals that are favorable to biking and walking. Sign up to join us here