Transportation Utility

The City of Columbus is considering creating a new utility to maintain and improve the City’s transportation system. This utility would provide vital funding to ensure a sustainable funding source dedicated to the City’s streets and roads to serve the public’s needs. The utility will reduce the City’s dependence on borrowing, and provide the City the ability to complete more street projects. Currently, improvements are only completed if funds are available in the budget or there is capacity available to borrow. 

The public has shown strong support for improving the transportation system in public feedback associated with the Road Map to 2050 project and an independent survey completed in 2009 with the Comprehensive Plan update. 

The Road Map project, completed in 2020, surveyed over 510 residents: 95 percent wanted more public investment for road repairs, 81 percent wanted more for safe walking, 78 percent wanted more for street maintenance, and 64 percent wanted more for safe biking. 

In 2009, the Columbus citizen survey showed, 97 percent of residents responding agreed or strongly agreed the City should invest in road maintenance, with 78 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing that the City needs to invest in improving sidewalks.  

Since 2010, with the current funding system, City Council has committed to completing street reconstruction and street maintenance projects to improve the streets within the City. Even with these increased efforts, city road ratings have stopped declining but have not improved.    

Due to strict limits on property-tax increases imposed by the state, the City cannot fully fund the work needed to improve the overall condition of the City’s transportation system. A transportation utility would enable the City to fund the work needed to provide citizens, businesses, industries, schools, churches, and other organizations the streets they deserve.  The proposed utility would help provide additional funding to make infrastructure improvements to the transportation system.

If approved, the City will begin collecting these fees during the second quarter of 2021. It is proposed that the fees would appear as a separate line item on the utility bills. They would be based on the land-use classification and size of the property. 

Since the City would fund only a portion of the transportation-system needs through these fees, the fees for residential customers are currently estimated to be less than $7 per month for 2021. We will have refined estimates for residential customers, along with other customers, by our public information meetings.

Public Information Meetings on the Transportation Utility

These meetings are available live on Spectrum Channel 980 and streaming live at http://reflect-columbus.cablecast.tv/CablecastPublicSite/ 

  • Thursday, February 25th - 6:30 PM - City Hall Council Chambers
  • Thursday, March 11 - 6:30 PM - City Hall Council Chambers

COMMENT FORM for Transportation Utility Comments

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is a transportation utility?
It is a municipal utility like water and sewer that would only fund transportation infrastructure needs, including capital, operation, and maintenance costs.

Why is the City considering creating one?
Current tax levy limits bar the City from simply raising taxes to generate the revenue to fund all existing needs, including transportation system needs. Wisconsin law permits municipalities to create utilities for specific services the municipality provides.

What is a Transportation Utility Fee?
A transportation utility fee (TUF) is a user-based charge meant to augment other revenue sources that pays for the costs of maintaining and operating the City’s transportation system. The City’s transportation system includes streets, streetlights, traffic signals, signage, curb, gutter, and other related items.

Is this new fee a tax?
No. A tax is collected to fund general government services. A fee is collected to provide a particular service from those that benefit from the service. These fees would be dedicated to maintaining essential transportation infrastructure. They would be collected from properties that benefit from the transportation system in proportion to how much the properties benefit. 

If the fee is approved, would all properties in the City pay it?
No, undeveloped properties would not. Although the City could charge these properties a fee for having the transportation system available, which would allow them to be developed, the City would not charge these properties. All other properties would pay this fee based on their estimated use of the transportation system. 

Can you explain in more detail how the TUF would be developed? 
Using data from the Institute of Transportation Engineers from their Trip Generation manuals, the City would determine the average number of trips per property based on the property’s size and its land use (for example, residential, manufacturing, school). The transportation-system costs not paid for through the tax levy would be allocated to each property in proportion to the number of trips the property generates. 

How would the fee be collected?
Just like other utility fees, the City would bill each property for its TUF each month. The TUF would likely appear as a separate line item on your City utility bill.

 How much would the TUF be?
The City is working with Ruekert & Mielke, Inc, to develop exact numbers for each property. These will be developed by the public-information meeting. 

Is this new fee a toll?
No. Tolls are physically collected from each driver for each individual trip. Transportation utility fees (TUFs) are fees based on estimated annual number of trips to and from each property, and they are collected like any other utility fee in a monthly bill.

What if I just paid a special assessment? Do I have to pay this fee, too?
The City is evaluating a system for temporarily reducing or eliminating the TUF fees for property owners who paid special assessments in the past several years. The City recognizes paying both might place an undue burden on some homeowners so the City will consider an exemption for properties that have paid a special assessment in the last five to ten years.

Why isn’t the City using a wheel tax?
A wheel tax is a fee that the state collects on a municipality’s behalf as part of the state collecting its annual vehicle registration fee. Many businesses and industries do not have vehicles yet benefit tremendously from the City’s streets. Therefore, the wheel tax is generally less fair than a TUF.  A TUF charges properties based on how much each one benefits from the transportation system. 

Wheel taxes are also unlikely to raise enough to substantially fund a municipality’s transportation needs. What’s more, the Department of Transportation takes a portion of a municipality’s fee in exchange for administering the fee.