The Wheeler Report recently sat down with Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb to discuss service, safety, and better roads.
What are the biggest accomplishments of your agency in the past few years?
We were able to open up over 30 new DMV centers, so now we have DMVs open at least 20 hours a week in every county in Wisconsin. We have continued to deliver a very robust and complex highway program on time and on budget. We have been working hard to make sure our investments are prioritized to help the state’s economy. We’ve been more accountable as an agency through performance measurement tools. A year ago we began using MAPSS, and implementing the five core goals of our agency. We’re trying to be more accountable to the public with the investments we are making.
What are some of the difficulties your agency faces?
I think the number one thing is, and this is not unique to Wisconsin, the uncertain future for how we finance transportation. It’s a challenge. We’re in a business and we develop projects. It takes a long time to develop and build a project. We need to have a stable and reliable funding picture going forward.
What has been the reaction to the Transportation Commission’s recommendations?
It was just released officially this week so we’re just starting to get reaction now. The Commission was made up with ten citizen members. I chaired the Commission, but I did not vote. They did a complete job of what they were told to do by the legislature. People need to look at the whole report and look at why those recommendations were made. The current revenues we have now are not going to be adequate to maintain what we have. Policy makers and people around the state want to have a discussion about what is a stable funding system moving forward.
There seems to be some opposition in the legislature to the recommendations, is there a Plan B?
We submitted a budget in November based on our current revenues. We’ll continue to prioritize our activities based on the money we have available. If you look at the budget we submitted, if we don’t do something in the future with regards to revenues, the future will be maintenance of the current system. We will be unable to do highway projects that need to be done, and there will be a deterioration of the current system. The important thing about the report is it lays out the situation in an analytical way. The Commission did what is was supposed to do. We looked at the revenues for the next ten years. Whatever happens, the Commission has laid out a clear and concise picture of the future problems we face. We didn’t get here overnight, and it won’t get fixed overnight. We’re taking the first step to look at what our needs are.
Can you talk to some of the safety improvements the agency has been doing?
Safety is one of the core goals of our agency. One of our programs, Zero in Wisconsin, is trying to move towards zero preventable traffic deaths. Last year we had an increase in traffic deaths. The prior four years we had less than 600, last year we had 600. We are looking at those in many ways. We are looking at the highway system and requesting additional dollars in the maintenance program. We are making sure the roads have better markings. We have started using center and side rumble strips on highways. Centerline crossing crashes and driving off the road crashes are generally the most serious. We are using education tools through federal funding. We have a partnership with Donald Driver of the Green Bay Packers helping us promote seatbelt use. Wisconsin falls behind other states on the number of people who are properly restrained. We have picked a person that younger people listen to. Younger drivers are generally the ones not belted correctly. We are increasing traffic enforcement, especially in work zone areas. We’ve started using planes again, especially in work zones, to enforce the laws. Engineering, education, and enforcement at the three areas of safety.
We’ve had a lot of accomplishments at out agency. We’re trying to be better partners with the local governments because only about 10% of the mileage in Wisconsin are our roads. The other 90% belongs to local governments. We need to have a good relationship for that. We’ve worked to develop and improve the freight in Wisconsin. We have a new program – Freight Friendly Wisconsin. We’ve been working closely with freight shippers (highway, rail, air and port). We’re working with shippers to make sure we are taking the needs of the freight industry in projects we do. We hold a conference every year where they come in and talk about what is important. We are working on a priority freight network right now. Looking at the routes that do the most to move freight around the state. We are trying to emphasize that. We are improving DMV service. We’re maintaining a complex highway program on time and on budget.