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

10:08 AM EST on January 11, 2011

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:

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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.

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