Picking Up the Pieces

What will it take to address local government infrastructure challenges in Metro Milwaukee?

June 2019


Video Summary

The final installment in our local government infrastructure series explores possible solutions to the mounting backlog of infrastructure repair and replacement needs that we documented in earlier reports. We find that an “all-of-the-above” response will be necessary, including new revenues; exploring new ways of borrowing money or attracting private contributions; trimming the list of identified projects; and service sharing and consolidation where possible.

Key findings from our five-part series of reports include:

  • For Milwaukee County alone, the backlog of capital projects is projected to exceed $226 million by 2023. This figure does not include the $180 million slated that year to initiate replacement of the county’s Safety Building, the total cost of which could approach $300 million.
  • Milwaukee County faces significant replacement needs for its aging fleet of more than 400 buses. The $13.3 million annual local cost to maintain an appropriate replacement cycle would exhaust nearly one-third of the county’s borrowing capacity.
  • City of Milwaukee ratepayers and taxpayers will need to bear huge costs for drinking water infrastructure. The city’s water utility has been directed to increase the pace of water main replacement at a cost of more than $20 million annually, while replacing 76,000 lead service lines may cost hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades.
  • More than half (57%) of the city of Milwaukee’s streets were rated in poor or fair condition in 2016. While the city is using a high impact streets repaving program to alleviate issues on some heavily traveled streets, there is still a need for dozens of potential major reconstruction projects within the next 10 to 15 years.

Local Government Infrastructure Series

Picking Up the Pieces is the fifth and final installment of a series on infrastructure needs for Milwaukee’s city and county governments and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. A Fork in the Road? focused on local roads, bridges, and buses owned by Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee. Beneath the Streets focused on water, sewer, and wastewater treatment infrastructure owned by the city and MMSD. Cracks in the Foundation focused on city and county building repair and replacement needs. Delay of Game focused on Milwaukee County-owned parks, recreational, and cultural infrastructure.

Media Coverage

"New report explores options for fixing city and county infrastructure issues" [1]CBS 58"County and city infrastructure backlogs portend tough decisions, Wisconsin Policy Forum report says" [2]Milwaukee Journal Sentinel"Report: County’s infrastructure backlog could total more than $400 million by 2023" [3]BizTimes"Milwaukee Area Lacks Funds To Meet Mounting Infrastructure Needs, Report Finds" [4]WUWM"County May Have To Sell Parks" [5]Urban Milwaukee"The Brass Tacks of Selling Parks" [6]Shepherd Express"The High Hidden Costs of Selling Milwaukee County Parks" [7]Shepherd Express"Wisconsin Policy Forum Doesn't Endorse the Sale of Milwaukee County Parks" [8]Shepherd Express"WILL WISCONSIN LET MILWAUKEE SAVE ITSELF?" [9]Milwaukee Magazine"Public Shocked by ‘For Sale’ Signs in County Parks" [10]Urban Milwaukee"Consultant recommends $66M for Mitchell Park Domes but warns plan is ‘challenging’" [11]Daily Reporter"Unique Coalition Seeks Sales Tax Hike" [12]Urban Milwaukee"'We Are Reaching the End of the Rope'" [13]Shepherd Express"Business, nonprofits create foundation to fund upkeep of strapped Milwaukee County Parks" [14]Milwaukee Journal Sentinel"How Milwaukee County executive candidates would approach racial disparities, parks, other issues" [15]Milwaukee Journal Sentinel"The Milwaukee Public Museum and Mitchell Park Domes Face a Crisis: Preserving Themselves" [16]Milwaukee Magazine"Milwaukee County facing $1 billion in deferred maintenance on high-profile landmarks" [17]WTMJ-TV Milwaukee