Monday, October 8, 2007

Investigate The Pabst Farm Mall Interchange - - Now

It's time to bring in the investigators.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee and its partner, the Legislative Audit Bureau, exist to double-check state spending, and they need turn their attention immediately to the emerging fiscal fiasco at Highway P off Interstate 94 in semi-rural Western Waukesha County.

That is where the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, (WisDOT), administratively decided to commit at least $21.3 million in state funds to create a full-scale "Diamond Interchange" for a shopping mall at the Pabst Farms project in Western Waukesha County - - mall construction now abandoned by the developer.

WisDOT made this commitment in discussions with Waukesha area government and business interests at Pabst Farms without any hearings, and before the legislature approved funding for the potential expansion of that segment of interstate.

If WisDOT officials didn't know that the mall was on life-support, and the developer was about to drop its project, then WisDOT's people, especially those at the department's District Two offices in Waukesha County, were not doing their jobs.

And if they knew, but continued with the interchange commitment while guessing/hoping that the site would fill in with something - - man, oh man - - they have some explaining to do, because betting on the come with $21 million of other people's money should not be how state bureaucrats manage our business.

And did they even consider a transit connection to Pabst Farms, for workers, residents and shoppers?

Did they forget that transit planning and assistance is also part of the WisDOT mission?

Were they told to forget about it?

Is anybody minding the store at WisDOT, or is it back to the bad old days when Tommy Thompson pal Chuck ("no relation") Thompson was WisDOT secretary, and said the agency's job was just to let contracts?

The public needs answers to these questions, and that's why the legislature has trusted mechanisms to get them answered.

If there is no inquiry, and no hearings, then WisDOT can continue to spend money and make land use policy in the region without the control of elected officials and the public's authentic participation.

And the same questions need to be asked of local officials and governments in Waukesha County, where more than $2 million additional public dollars were committed in the same hurried fashion for the interchange, despite allegedly tight budgets everywhere, and public pressures for lower taxes and reduced spending.

Remember: the interchange financing pressure became something of an 'emergency' because the state, Waukesha County and City of Oconomowoc didn't coordinate planning at Pabst Farms with the project owners.

For some time, a huge, regional, upscale mega-mall was on its drawing boards, but no one penciled in the interchange financing.

Now the mall has come and gone, but the interchange planning continues.

The state's fiscal watchdogs need to get to the bottom of this mess, and if the local governments are smart, they will take their shares out of their budgets before final adoption later this fall.

For the locals, the budgets schedules are in their favor. Money can be saved.

Face, too.

But WisDOT operates with such insularity and arrogance that it can't be counseled to do the right thing with any expectation of a reasonable outcome - - which in this case is simply to pull the plug on having earmarked money for a road to no where without permission.

So quick and unambiguous pressure delivered by legislators and watchdog auditors at the State Capitol is a necessity to get WisDOT's attention, and action.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The mall idea has come but not "gone' quite yet. The area will get developed, just like most open areas along the I-94 corridor all the way to is just a matter of time. If you want to preserve our "country living" , I wouldn't put too much effort within a 1/2 mile of our main artery of transportation in Lake Country. Change is coming, we might as well accept it.