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Stop nickel and diming local governments

The state of Wisconsin is sitting on billions of dollars of surplus funds. Legislators in Madison are making headlines about the various schemes to buy voter support and otherwise squander the money on their pet projects.

Meanwhile, staff members from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation are hard at work attempting to nickel and dime places like the village of Rib Lake with aggressive enforcement of sign rules within the state right of way in the hope of increasing annual permit fee revenues flowing from rural communities to Madison.

At last week’s village board meeting, board members received a list of signs the state claims are not in line with the rules with the remedy being for the village to pay the state yearly permits. In many cases, these signs and items, such as the warning signal for students to cross the road when the former Clearview School was in use, have been in place for decades, predating state road projects to replace bridges and resurface Hwy 102.

In general, the Wisconsin DOT is very protective about what can happen in the right of way. The right of way is the area of government-controlled land that extends out from the centerline of a road. In some cases, this land is actually owned by either the state, county or local government. In other cases, it is still privately owned but there are mountains of regulations about what can or can’t happen in that area.

The reasons for these regulations are varied with the state falling back on claims of protecting public safety from drivers being overwhelmed with information due to crowded signs along the roadway or, more legitimately, from having visibility reduced due to signs near intersections or turns. The other major reason the state DOT is protective of its right of way authority is if the road ever needs to be expanded.

The state of Wisconsin operates all its state highways as if they were 10-lane wide sprawling traffic nightmares such as can be seen in the sprawl of shopping districts in the Milwaukee and Madison areas. It is unlikely during the lifetime of anyone reading these words that Hwy 102 going through Rib Lake will ever approach the traffic and congestion of Hwy 100 going through Oak Creek. Yet, the powers that be in the state plan like that is a real possibility. Or they could just be attempting to grab a few thousand dollars a year from rural Wisconsin to offset the rental of construction zone cones elsewhere in the state.

Local municipal residents should not have to pay a yearly permit fee to the state for a sign directing people to where to turn to go to the village hall, library, or informing them of winter parking regulations. These signs help residents and travelers and cause no additional work or cost for the state.

Doesn’t the DOT have better things to do with its staff resources than shaking down rural communities for permit fees for decades-old signs?