Northern Towns Turning Pavement To Gravel

Small Communities Grapple With Rising Costs, Limited Resources


Wisconsin roads are in rough shape and some roads in northern Wisconsin communities are being turned from pavement to gravel.

Randy Jones, village trustee for the Village of Poplar, said the village has about 26 miles of road to maintain. But, he said they receive around $14,000 in state funding to do repairs.

“In the last five to 10 years, we’ve lost paved roads to gravel. We’ve lost 3.73 miles, and we have another 1.8 miles that are in imminent danger of being reground into gravel that are deemed too far to patch,” Jones said. “We also have a number of other roads that are in pretty poor condition, and it’s always one of our main concerns. The funds that we get to maintain our roads is just not anywhere near enough.”

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Gov. Scott Walker’s Budget would increase local road aids by $77 million across the state. But, Jones said it won’t make much of a difference. Town of Lakeside Chairman Tom Johnson said the town has about four miles of road that were previously blacktop.

“Probably in a couple years, we won’t have any blacktop,” he said. “We have maybe two-and-a-half miles remaining of blacktop and that’ll be all gravel.”

Johnson said the town should be budgeting around $60,000 to $70,000 each year to repair roads, but he said they’re lucky if they can devote half that amount to road maintenance. In Bayfield County, Former Town of Bell Chairman Bill Sloan said towns are struggling with limited revenues and rising costs.

“The cost of materials and equipment have increased significantly. In particular, with improvements in technology, there have also been increases in cost…so you’re looking frequently at a five to 10-year loan to pay for them,” said Sloan.

Sloan said there’s been more cooperation between towns as resources have dwindled. But, turning paved roads to gravel has drawn complaints from some residents. Town of Clover Chair Beverly Steele said the town also worries about the potential for lawsuits.

“Pavement increases the value of properties along the pavement,” she said. “If we de-pave a road, it’s possible that a property owner or owners could sue us for not maintaining the road in the condition that it is.”

Town and village leaders say they’d like to see the state increase the gas tax or licensing fees to help provide more road funding. They also would like to see changes in how the state calculates funding for road aids. Gov. Scott Walker is proposing around $500 million in bonding for transportation in the next two-year budget.