Wisconsin Road Construction Underway, With Changes Due To COVID-19 Pandemic

State Department Of Transportation Begins 2020 Road Work Amid A Sharp Drop In Traffic

Highway traffic
Gregory Bull/AP Photo

The state Department of Transportation has begun more than 100 road projects this year, now with extra safety measures in place because of the novel coronavirus.

DOT Secretary Craig Thompson said about 90 percent of DOT’s 3,400 employees are teleworking while department staff has been working with private-sector contractors and labor unions to coordinate efforts to ensure physical distancing and other safety measures at work sites.

This year’s work is being done with far fewer cars on the road than usual. Thompson said traffic is down by about 46 percent and that’s changed how some of this year’s work is getting done.

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“Some work that we generally would have done as night work, we’re able to do during the day,” he said. “We’re able to close down a lane and work on it more safely when other times we may have needed to keep them open.”

But Thompson said the lower levels of traffic also means a sharp drop in transportation revenue, which comes from federal and state gas taxes as well as registration and title fees.

He said this year’s projects will go forward, but without “mitigating factors” such as federal aid or other sources, there would likely be “significant changes” to the projects scheduled for fiscal year 2021.

Keeping 2020 projects on track, he said, might help.

“There’s something called federal redistribution that happens every August,” he said. “And if some states aren’t able to use the federal money, it gets redistributed to other states that are. We’re hopeful that our strategy of keeping projects going is going to allow us to participate more in that federal money.”