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March 16, 2021 11:45 AM, EDT

Wisconsin DOT Issues Funds to Support County Forest Roads

Wisconsin A county forest road in Douglas County. (Wisconsin Department of Transportation)

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The Wisconsin Department of Transportation recently distributed funds to improve public roads that run through county forests.

Some $320,600 will support 900 miles of public roads throughout 24 counties. The funding was administered by WisDOT through the County Forest Road Aids program, which covers costs for the improvement and maintenance of roads that traverse county forests. These roads are important for timber hauling operations, according to a WisDOT spokesperson.

“County forests are an asset to Wisconsin, and maintaining good access to these lands improves tourism, industry and agriculture,” said WisDOT Secretary-designee Craig Thompson. “WisDOT is pleased to work with our county partners to make good investments in our local transportation infrastructure.”

In order to qualify for the County Forest Road Aids program, roads must meet minimum design standards of a 16-foot surface width and a 20-foot roadway width, be located within county forests and remain open and used for travel.

For fiscal 2021, Marinette County will receive $82,017, the largest payment distributed during this round of funding. Located in northeast Wisconsin, the tip of Marinette County toes into Green Bay and sits about 65 miles north of the city of the same name. It contains 234 miles of eligible county forest roads. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources data indicates that, in 2017, the forest products industry accounted for the employment of 1,129 individuals in Marinette County.

Wisconsin

A scene from a University of Wisconsin-Madison Arlington Agricultural Research Station charitable event (left) and a forest by a lake in Minocqua, Wis. (College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison via Flickr) 

Other substantial payments include funds directed to Douglas and Washburn Counties, each of which will receive about $33,000. Douglas County, situated at the western edge of Lake Superior and bordering Minnesota, represents 95 eligible miles. Washburn County, located immediately south of Douglas County, also contains 95 eligible miles.

The forest products industry is an important part of Wisconsin’s economy. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the industry has a total output of $24.4 billion. Department of Natural Resources data indicate the forest products industry is the top employer in seven counties: Florence, Iron, Lincoln, Price, Rusk, Taylor and Trempealeau. Six of those counties (all except Trempealeau) were listed as County Forest Road Aids program recipients during the latest round of funding.

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County forests sustain jobs for people other than the individuals who fell trees. According to the Wisconsin County Forests Association, county forests support jobs related to trucking, paper production, printing and manufactured building materials.

“The forest industry is hugely important,” Mark Rickenbach, a professor in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Transport Topics. “Forests dominate the northern part of the state, often referred to as the ‘Northwoods.’ That said, forests and woodlands can be found across the state.”

The County Forest Road Aids program is administered separately from the General Transportation Aids program, which helps local governments receive state aid payments to offset the cost of county and municipal road construction, maintenance and traffic operations. WisDOT distributed $126.4 million in General Transportation Aids to communities across the state in January.

“Local roads are the first and last mile of many trips, and they are essential for our local economies, businesses and communities,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “Ensuring every corner of our state has strong infrastructure helps us connect the dots by helping workers, products and visitors get from point A to point B, and I am pleased that we have increased the funding available for counties to fix these forest roads.”

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