Agency Primer: Department of Transportation

Agency Primer by IRG:

Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation

Prior to the start of the 20th century, there was no need for a state agency to oversee transportation in Wisconsin. However, the advent of internal combustion powered vehicles changed that, and in 1911, the Wisconsin Highway Commission was created. The Commission was authorized to provide aid for the construction and maintenance of public highways. In 1939, the legislature created the Motor Vehicle Department and consolidated registration, licensing, and enforcement within it. A few years later, in 1945, the legislature created the Aeronautics Commission to regulate air travel and partner with federal regulatory agencies.

The executive branch reorganization in 1967 saw the consolidation of these three predecessor agencies into one agency, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). Further reform happened in 1977, when the organizational structure was changed to give the Secretary authority over the divisions within the agency, rather than the Governor.

Today, the department has many of the same responsibilities it had when its authority was split among several small agencies. The agency is generally charged with providing highway aid to local governments, maintenance and construction of Wisconsin’s state highway and interstate system, and traffic law enforcement. The agency is the main hub for state identification cards, vehicle registration, and examinations for drivers licenses. The Department also supports rail transportation, although it is important to note the railroads are regulated by the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads.

Today, WisDOT manages a biennial budget of nearly $7 billion dollars. Revenue for the agency comes from various sources, mainly federal funds, and segregated revenue from gas tax and vehicle registrations. The department has a footprint in all 72 counties and operates regional with five offices around the state.

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