Highway Expansion Rampant in Wisconsin, Which "Can't Afford" Rail

Just a few months ago, a handful of governors made a big show of their “budget consciousness” by torpedoing passenger rail projects.

Given that highway projects represent a much larger share of a state’s spending, we might expect these fiscal watchdogs to be tamping down on road construction with equal fervor. That does not appear to be the case, however, as we check in with Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.

Wisconsin’s planning docket is awash with dubious and expensive highway projects that make the state’s annual operating costs for the foregone rail project look like chump change. James Rowen at Network blog the Political Environment brings us a sampling of the kind of projects that seemed to have evaded the fiscal scrutiny the rail proposal received:

Wisconsin's Scott Walker campaigned against "wasteful spending" on passenger rail, but when it comes to highways, money seems to be no object. Photo: ##http://brookfield7.blogspot.com/2010/08/walker-rally-made-political-hay-ad.html## Brookfield7##

Blog readers have been sending in examples of state highway projects that appear bloated, unneeded or politically-inspired. They are sending me these reminders after I noted the $1.36 billion in major state highway project cost overruns enumerated by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation itself, and I had wondered if such indefensible road-building expenditures would come to the attention of Scott Walker’s new commission on fraud, waste and abuse. For example, does Burlington, WI, a city of 10,000, really need a 11-mile, $100 million highway bypass?

A reader reminded me also about the Interchange to Nowhere off I-94 where the Pabst Farms mall has been canceled, and another reader jogged my memory about the widening of State Highway 23 as ordered by the legislature — (and one of its main backers also opposed the Madison-Milwaukee train: isn’t earmarking and dedicated funding oh, so situational?) — and not through broader state highway planning processes.

And can Wisconsin afford the remaining bulk of the Southeastern Wisconsin Freeway Reconstruction and Expansion plan?  The state completed the $810 million Marquette Interchange project, and is partially-done with the $1.9 billion I-94 North-South leg from Milwaukee to the Illinois State line. But not yet begun or funded as more efficient vehicles and diminished driving cut gas tax collections — $3.8 billion on various system pieces, across seven counties, of I-94, I-43, I-894 and State Highway 45.

Highway excesses… is Walker interested?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Trains 4 America writes that high speed rail projects around the country are attracting private investment, while road projects continue to require heavy public subsidies. Beyond DC uses historic aerial photos to illustrate how the fabric of urban communities was destroyed by “urban renewal.” And Tucson Velo reports that a bike vigil is being held for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

  • Mike Hogan

    Excellent points. But likely will get no response. And the photo is under the Haon Bridge with the backside of the Marcus Amphitheater in the background.

  • Great catch by Mike Hogan – – because the Hoan Bridge is proposed for an unfunded $240 million complete replacement, as is, while cheaper alternatives that include at-grade connections to free up land for development are being opposed by Walker and non-city opinion-makers.

    Details here – – http://thepoliticalenvironment.blogspot.com/search?q=Hoan+Bridge

  • All signs point to increased road building. Remember, Walker wanted to divert the HSR funding to Roads during the campaign – clearly highlighting his position that more roads are needed. But Walker isn’t likely to stop there. A 2006 study group hosted by the Republican legislature produced some road funding ideas that could come back to life. Ideas like funding road projects by capturing increased property tax revenue generated from the presence of the highway (why couldn’t the same thing have taken care of the 7.5mil/yr operating subsidy for high speed rail?), diverting sales tax revenue from automobiles and automobile-related products. With all the raids on local taxes, we are likely to end up in a situation where local services are paid for largely by the people who do not drive.

  • Alek F

    I truly sympathize the people of Wisconsin, who will now have to suffer from an ignorant governor making a wrong decision. The state will further suffocate in their air pollution and will sink further in their traffic quagmire.
    For starters, the more roads you build, the more traffic you attract, ultimately generating even higher congestion. I guess, not all governors realize that. Likewise, not all governors realize highway investments are higher than railroad investments.
    Sorry, folks!

  • Erik G.

    What’s really crazy about all this asphalt-fetish is how abused the State of Wisconsin has been by Detroit in the closings of both the Janesville and Kenosha plants…

    See:
    http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/article.php?article=23106

    …versus the investments made by Talgo to open a factory in that state for production of a very reliable and proven rail product for both Wisconsin, Oregon and hopefully other states in the near future.

    Will my future Wisconsin dairy products come from Lead and Mercury-laden, Autistic cows?

  • Alex

    Really? The more roads you build, the more traffic you attract? There will always be a permanent state of congestion? Why don’t you try going to Western Nebraska and tell me if that’s really true or not.

    Right now, because of the lack of sufficient roads, there are people who would like to make trips to businesses, entertainment options, etc. that don’t even bother because of the congestion. If you build more roads that means that more of those people will actually try to make those trips. But that doesn’t mean that those roads “attract more traffic,” except in the sense that they allow people to fulfill desires that they always had in the first place.

    Yes, there should be more mass transit options including expanded bus service and rail. But there should also be more roads and highways. It’s not one or the other, we need both.

  • Alex

    Also shame on Erik G. for making jokes about autism and propagating the mercury/autism conspiracy theory. That has no place here.

  • Omri

    “Right now, because of the lack of sufficient roads, there are people who would like to make trips to businesses, entertainment options, etc. that don’t even bother because of the congestion.”

    Is that why Wisconsin has ridiculously bad air quality for a rural area? Bear in mind air quality in suburban Milwaukee is often worse than in New York City!

  • jd

    Would the alternative be to run the highway through Burlington? Cities like San Francisco had a freeway revolt and tore down freeways after the 1989 earthquake. SF and Oakland have used freeways and roadways to segregate neighborhoods. Look at what happened to the Fillmore and West Oakland as examples. Another example would be East Palo Alto which is segregated by 101. Running the freeway through Burlington could have similar effects so it’s probably better to bypass the city instead.

    Even as a resident of SF, with its so called great public transit, I still find it much more convenient to drive and leave the city instead of spending my money in SF. Aside from going to work in the business district, public transit is fairly inconvenient to use except for those living in the NE quadrant of the SF. I’m sure a lot of the goods and services I get in San Mateo County can be found within SF, but the inconvenience of getting to them makes them far less attractive.

  • Fran Taylor

    Labor is also appalled at these decisions and calling out governors who promised jobs during their campaigns. This article from Labor Notes:

    http://www.labornotes.org/2010/12/incoming-governors-spurn-federal-money-rail-jobs

    isn’t available online yet (will be later), but it quotes reps from IBEW, Transport Workers, Locomotive Engineers, and Laborers unions who are disgusted at the loss of jobs. The article mentions the Talgo train car manufacturer cited in an earlier comment:

    “Killing the Wisconsin project will cost between 4,700 and 9,500 jobs, according to estimates. Talgo representatives said they are likely to move the factory now that train plans have been canceled.”

  • Casey

    Right now, because of the lack of sufficient roads, there are people who would like to make trips to businesses, entertainment options, etc. that don’t even bother because of the congestion. If you build more roads that means that more of those people will actually try to make those trips. But that doesn’t mean that those roads “attract more traffic,” except in the sense that they allow people to fulfill desires that they always had in the first place.

    In other word, more roads means more people driving, which in turn means more air pollution and CO2 released. And numerous studies have shown, and new studies continue to show, that more roads simply mean that people will fill up those roads with more congestion. You might not have read any of the studies, but that doesn’t make them not true.

  • Omri

    “Would the alternative be to run the highway through Burlington?”

    That would be not building the highway to begin with. Wisconsin is served by a 1 mile grid of two lane roads. The need for these highways is grossly exaggerated.

  • chorse

    Don’t worry, once gas spikes, no one in the state will be able to afford to drive on new roads….

  • Right now, because of the lack of sufficient roads, there are people who would like to make trips to businesses, entertainment options, etc. that don’t even bother because of the congestion.

    That’s true in some cities (my brother told me once that he’d given up going to some places in Los Angeles because of congestion on the freeways); when it is true, the obvious solution is a functional mass transit system, so people don’t have to drive to go wherever they want.

    But’s it’s not true in Milwaukee. There is a rush hour, and traffic can be slow if you happen to hit a Brewers game, but congestion isn’t bad enough to justify massive highway expansion, and it certainly doesn’t deter people from making trips to “businesses, entertainment options, etc.”

    You’re not from around here, are you, Alex?

  • poncho

    no we dont need more roads. alex, i live in oregon, but i’d like to do all my shopping in san francisco. therefore the public should build a toll-free curve-free grade-free no-speed-limit autobahn to get me to san francisco in a few hours so I can justify shopping there regularly. no, actually thats not how it works. if you dont build new roads and let people deal with the existing roads in their existing traffic condition, people will just stay closer to home and shop at local stores. building more roads makes it possible to make trips you otherwise wouldnt make by traveling further and further.

  • Alexei

    “Really? The more roads you build, the more traffic you attract? There will always be a permanent state of congestion? Why don’t you try going to Western Nebraska and tell me if that’s really true or not.”

    That’s true. If you reduce the population density by a factor of five or ten, you will end up with less traffic. Unfortunately, you’ll not have the tax base to pay for those roads, so you’ll have to find someone to subsidize you, like Wisconsin subsidizes Nebraska. (http://www.taxfoundation.org/taxdata/show/22685.html)

    So yeah! If you can convince most of the population to move out, but to continue paying for your roads, you’re set, traffic-wise.

  • Fran Taylor

    “Right now, because of the lack of sufficient roads, there are people who would like to make trips to businesses, entertainment options, etc. that don’t even bother because of the congestion.”

    This was better said by Yogi Berra about a local restaurant: “It’s so crowded no one goes there any more.”

    Building more roads will eventually reduce congestion because you not only add capacity, you destroy the destinations that draw people onto the roads in the first place. The logical end point is a place with nothing but roads and no reason to use them.

  • Actually, a new research report shows that stopping freeway building altogether is the more cost-effective and efficient way to move cars (and people):

    http://otrec.us/news/entry/report_explores_the_end_of_the_freeway_era

  • Spdlrc

    Milwaukee has a Freeway Structure that was built mostly in the 1960’s and IS FALLING APART

    The current freeways are beyond their functional lifespans both structurally and capacity wise

  • Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Wisconsin Highway Bonanza: Scott Walker Unfazed by Lack of Funds

|
Early last year we learned just how dire the financial situation was in Wisconsin. Scott Walker explained how his state couldn’t afford to run more trains if the federal government paid for passenger rail upgrades. Wisconsin, he said, couldn’t afford to collectively bargain with its employees. But as we’ve reported extensively, Scott Walker is a big […]

Midwest Govs Go All Out to Raise More Money for Highways

|
We’ve been watching how governors around the country are getting extra “creative” as they try to keep their transportation budgets solvent. Yesterday we witnessed an excise tax on bicycles floated in Washington State. But the award for the wildest funding scheme may go to renowned highway spender Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, who wants to […]

In Wisconsin: Driving Stagnates, Highway Spending Accelerates

|
Young people are driving less. Baby boomers are driving less. Americans in general are driving less. The news hasn’t sunk in, however, at certain state DOTs — Wisconsin being a prime example. Under Governor Scott Walker — who insisted the state was too “broke” to operate passenger rail — highway spending has been skyrocketing. Today, […]

Ohio, Wisc. Rail Money to be Transferred to 13 Other States

|
Ohio’s and Wisconsin’s loss will be 13 other states’ gain. U.S. Department of Transportation announced this afternoon that nearly $1.2 billion in passenger rail money will be withdrawn from the states of Ohio and Wisconsin at the behest of their incoming governors. The money will be transferred to other states to support “high speed rail […]

Kansas City Residents to Missouri DOT: Enough With the Highways Already

|
Usually when we hear news from a Streetsblog Network member about the Missouri Department of Transportation, it’s because the agency is blocking ideas like a complete streets bill or a highway-to-boulevard conversion in downtown St. Louis. The advocates at BikeWalkKC report that now the agency is feeling some grassroots resistance to its cars-first approach: The […]