Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Waukesha Leader Had Suggested Tolls for I-94 Expansion: Try It Out On The Unfunded Pabst Farms Mall Off-Ramp

Then-State Sen. Margaret Farrow, (R-Elm Grove), suggested in 1995 levying tolls to pay for rebuilding I-94.

There were few takers, but that was then and this is now, and with the regional freeway expansion plan short $20 million needed to put a new, high-traffic interchange at the Pabst Farms' mall off I-94 in Western Waukesha County, new thinking is needed so the public doesn't have to find the dough.

So what better time could there be than right now for Farrow to step up and resurrect the idea as a timely, problem-solving approach?

Coincidentally, Darryl Enriquez's blog from Waukesha for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tells us that Farrow, now working in economic development in Waukesha County, thinks the proposed commuter rail service linking Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee and perhaps Waukesha is too expensive to build.

Not that things get cheaper in the future - - the need for the Pabst Farms mall interchange is a perfect example - - so this could be the right moment for Farrow to re-introduce her thinking on tolls to finance targeted highway construction.

Tolling roads would have more credibility if it was promoted in Waukesha County, home to the push for TABOR and other taxation-and-spending controls.

Farrow has the standing to make the case, and what better place to begin the concept as a demonstration than at the interchange-to-be to handle more traffic to what has been described as a high-end, one-million-square ft. mall complex?

Final thought: tolling the interchange - - either with electronic scanning, or through parking lot fees - - with shoppers paying the freight (mall employers could rebate costs to employees, or even pay for much of it upfront) would solve the funding shortfall.

And keep this highly-dedicated interchange off the state taxpayers' backs - - certainly a reasonable and politically-sensitive approach - - especially since local officials in the area have already said they don't want to be sent the bill.

(UPDATE: Waukesha area officials are in mega-meeting mode, pressing the case that state funding is reasonable because the mall will assist regional economic development.

This means a full-court press for altered state highway building schedules, rearranged financing priorities, and increase local taxes, too.

When business expansion demands subsidies, and it involves highway spending, public officials fall all over themselves to find the money - - the public's money.

But notice that when other transportation projects are suggested - - including urban rail that also creates jobs - - the same officials pull out different language and behaviors:

Too expensive. Not enough study. No city/county/regional/planetary consensus.

These policy-makers can't be troubled with the trifles of rail planning, urban growth, cleaner air and genuine regional competition with more forward-looking areas of the Midwest.

Hey: there's a new mall on the books and people need it so they don't have to drive all the way into Milwaukee to get to Mayfair. Clear these officials' calendars: they have an important interstate highway interchange meeting to attend.

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