Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Milwaukee Bridge To Nowhere Now The Bridge To Fiscal Ruin

Quite a telling tale in the effort by some south side suburban communities and other office holders to make the state repair, and then rebuild, the Hoan Bridge.

Initially over-engineered out of the highway planner's Interstate Highway pattern book to soar over the Harbor - - and for years so disconnected from the street grid in Bayview that it was known as the Bridge to Nowhere - - the Hoan now faces repairs, or perhaps total replacement that by 2050 could cost $3 billion, according to a Journal Sentinel account of a private meeting held among state and local officials.

Mind you: these whopping costs are on top of the $6.5 billion projected for the freeway reconstruction and expansion plan.

And is there any money to be spent on local road aids, and dare I say it: Transit? Perhaps rail?

Where is all this funding to come from?

Some suburban leaders have lapsed into Black Helicopter mode, thinking that there is a conspiracy among developers, Milwaukee officials and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to substitute a smaller, lower bridge in order to free up land for commercial or residential construction.

Hardly.

Trust me: WisDOT doesn't work that cooperatively with Milwaukee - - that it would go out of its way to add taxable property to the city. The opposite is true: homes and businesses and land have been gobbled up by the new Marquette Interchange, with more losses to come in future freeway system expansions.

The reason that WisDOT is discussing a smaller or alternative Hoan Bridge is because the department knows that sustaining a white elephant will help drown its budgets in red ink.

It always amazes me that in the face of massive state fiscal problems, the pro-highway crowd always wants more-more-more.

WisDOT needs to keep its eye on the financing issue, or else go out and tell the public the truth, which is if it wants to rebuild the Hoan Bridge as is, there will be substantial tax and fee increases statewide to pay for it.

Will the elected officials pushing for a big, tall, new bridge carry that weight?

Should people in Ashland and Boscobel and Blooming Grove pay that freight?

Transit upgrades are always hung up in the "how to we pay for it" conundrum.

It's way past due holding highway projects to a similar standard.

"Because I want it" is not a good enough reason to commit the state to billions in spending for a single bridge that was too big in the first place.

There's a real opportunity here to scale back the Hoan to something reasonable that continues to serve the south side and nearby communities and that also saves the state a big chunk of money.

And if that frees land for development, then that's great, too.

But let the conversation continue, and let's think big and broad at the same time.

5 comments:

Dave Reid said...

Yeah, it is pretty amazing how fast the rhetoric got going on this one. My guess they will cave and end up rebuilding the thing as that is the easy thing to do... Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Put a railroad track in the middle of the Hoan to satisfy you, then we can call it the "railroad to nowhere."

By the way, Boscobel has rail service three times a week. I visited the nicely-maintained depot on Wisconsin Ave three weeks ago. Maybe Boscobel citizens will use Doyle's folly trains if HST goes there.

d_cox said...

Hmmm, the estimated cost of replacement is just the inflation-adjusted present amount. Why break the bank now when it may be affordable 40+ years in the future? Mind you, the future amount has already been inflated from the original $2 billion reported in the Milwaukee Journal just hours ago to $3 billion dollars here. At that rate it will be in the trillions when the decision comes due...

Sam said...

The tax base created by opening up land around the bridge is too valuable to waste.

The Hoan Bridge is the Jeff Suppan of Milwaukee bridges. Expensive and not worth keeping.

$5.7 Billion worth of tax base equals about $14 million in annual tax revenue or enough to operate 37 neighborhood libraries or the annual overtime budget of the of MPD....

Sam said...

Okay, I feel a little bit bad about dumping on Suppan because I hear he is a really nice guy.

But if we waste $240 Million on the re-decking of that bridge than re-name it the "Suppan Bridge." "Suppansion Bridge?" featuring a 5th inning collapse....

Inside City Hall and the Courthouse people are currently turning over every couch cushion looking for revenue sources to plug budget holes...and at the same time people are rallying around dumping tax money into a failing bridge with an obsolete design?

So go ahead and keep the Hoan as is. The City might look the same but it is going to be a very different place to live than it is now if we aren't willing to change.