County roads cited in national article

The condition of Trempealeau County roads was the focus of a recent New York Times’ article that cites big vehicles and underfunding as jeopardizing rural economies.

The Feb. 18 article quotes county highway commissioner Al Rinka as saying the county’s roads need between $60 million and $80 million in repairs, this in a county with just 29,000 residents. The article says there is no state or federal money for roads, though the state contributed $1.2 million in 2019, the bulk of which must be used on repairs not reconstruction.

“Emergency closings and weight limits are as common as a sunrise,” says the article by Patricia Cohen. “Farmers can’t easily move equipment from one field to another. Truckers must make long detours to deliver feed and fertilizers. Drivers end up with broken axles, wrecked suspension systems or busted tires.”

The article focuses on Kellen Nelson, whose family owns Triple Brook Farms on County Road O outside Osseo. Nelson said the roads upon which his operations depend haven’t been rebuilt, only patched and sealed since the 1960s.

The county’s roads, the article says, “look like losers in a barroom brawl. Thick, jagged cracks run down the asphalt like scars, interrupted at points by bruised bumps. In some places, guardrails are tilted off their moorings like a pair of glasses knocked askew.”

The Trempealeau County Board of Supervisors included in the 2020, $75 million county budget $5 million in borrowing to fix some the county’s roads.

“With luck, the added funding will cover 15 miles of reconstruction, nearly four times what would be possible with the department’s typical annual budget of $1.2 million to $1.5 million,” the article says. “County Road JJ, where a school bus accident occurred, will get new blacktop.”  

“The state’s gas tax,” the article continues, “which is dedicated to transportation needs, has been unchanged since 2006. A proposal last year from Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, for an eight-cent increase was voted down by the Republican-led Legislature, which instead raised vehicle title and registration fees.”

“What’s really needed, Mr. Rinka said, is a ‘culture change’ in residents and business owners who want good roads but don’t want to pay for them,” the article says.

The article did not mention Rinka’s frequent objection to state standards and paperwork that the highway commissioner has cited as a significant contributor to road costs.

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