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Rough Road for WI “Highway Hazard” Bill?

August 3, 2011

MADISON, Wis. - A measure making its way through the Wisconsin Legislature would change a 162-year-old requirement that government bodies have specific responsibility to repair local roads and bridges. Opponents say the change would allow them to shirk responsibility for damage and injuries caused by crumbling bridges and highways.

With this week's fourth anniversary of the Minneapolis I-35W bridge collapse disaster, which killed 13 and injured 145, many are concerned that the state's roads and bridges will crumble as budgets shrink. An even bigger concern may be the proposed change in state law that would make it harder for people to collect damages when they are injured by faulty infrastructure.

Mike End, president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, says there is already a $50,000 limit on damages in such cases.

"No recovery, versus under the current law at least there would be that $50,000 recovery if the damages warranted it."

Supporters of the bill say the money to fix roads could come from savings municipalities would gain by not paying to repair damaged cars and trucks or compensating injured citizens. End counters that the law would make it easier for government to shirk its responsibilities, and adds that there will be even bigger problems with the aging infrastructure across Wisconsin if the law passes.

"There will be less incentive for the municipalities to maintain those things. It is not helping the situation at all if this bill does pass."

The proposed law has been introduced in the Senate and Assembly. The versions - Senate Bill 125 and Assembly Bill 180 - are before committees.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI

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