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Deteriorating Rural Infrastructure Puts Wisconsin's Agricultural Industry at Risk
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 05/25/2023

Wisconsin's agricultural industry is facing significant challenges due to aging rural roads and bridges that are unable to support the demands of modern farming. The deteriorating infrastructure forces farmers and haulers to make costly and inefficient adjustments to avoid hauling milk, feed, and equipment over crumbling pavement and unsafe bridges. Long detours and reduced truck capacities increase expenses and pose safety risks, such as the potential for rollovers.

Recognizing the urgent need to address this issue, legislation has been introduced in Wisconsin, making it the top priority for the state's farm lobby. The bipartisan bills highlight the disparity between an aging rural infrastructure, originally constructed in the 1950s and 60s, and the agricultural industry's growth, which has necessitated larger equipment and increased transportation demands.

The proposed legislation aims to develop a grant program targeted specifically at improving rural routes. Municipalities would be eligible for grants covering up to 100% of the project's cost if it enhances local roads, minor collectors, bridges, or culverts used by multiple producers and subject to weight limits. An amendment includes roads used for hauling forestry products in the list of eligible projects.

With an expected appropriation of $150 million as part of the state budget process, the program seeks to support smaller projects that may not qualify for existing road construction grant programs or involve local governments with limited budgets for large-scale improvements. The application process aims to be simple and accessible to accommodate small town governments without extensive grant writing resources.

While the full impact of the program remains uncertain, legislators and interest groups view it as a positive step forward. With approximately 62,000 miles of town roads in Wisconsin and estimated costs of up to $40,000 per mile for such projects, the extent of repair needed and the utilization of the grant program are still to be determined. However, stakeholders agree that it is a crucial starting point to address the pressing infrastructure challenges faced by the state's agricultural industry.

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