U.S. DOT: Wisconsin DOT in Violation of Civil Rights Act

Score one for environmental and civil rights groups in Wisconsin in their campaign against the highway-centric Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Wisconsin's Zoo Interchange is going to cost the state's taxpayers $1.7 billion, but it's as good as a hole in the head for people who depend on transit. Civil Rights advocates are suing the state over the project. Photo: OnMilwaukee

The U.S. Department of Transportation has found WisDOT to be in violation of federal civil rights statutes, following a complaint by advocates for minority groups in Milwaukee. WisDOT has been found “deficient” and given 90 days to remedy the situation, according to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Among the violations cited by U.S. DOT, WisDOT has not updated its Title VI compliance plan since 2004. That document is supposed to explore how the agency’s activities affect minority groups, and an update is required yearly by federal law.

The Journal Sentinel noted that the ruling met with approval from the ACLU of Wisconsin, the group that is pursuing a lawsuit against WisDOT over the $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange, outside of Milwaukee, which does exactly squat for people in the region who depend on transit.

“For years, civil rights groups and transit advocates have argued that state authorities have been discriminating in favor of highways that benefit white suburbanites and against transit projects that would benefit urban minorities without cars,” the Journal Sentinel reported. The state of Wisconsin is currently pouring $6.2 billion into its highway systems, despite being “broke,” in the words of Governor Scott Walker. Milwaukee’s transit system, meanwhile, is facing fare increases and service reductions.

A federal judge in Madison will decide the Zoo Interchange case, but attorney Dennis Grzezinski said the USDOT civil rights finding “may provide some greater credibility to our court claims.”

For its part, WisDOT told the Journal Sentinel that they are “now in compliance” with the Civil Rights Act. Grzezinski, however, was dubious. WisDOT “threw something together that they believe is a Title VI report. Most of us on the outside think it’s woefully inadequate.”

Thanks to James Rowen at the Political Environment for alerting us to this story.