Sunday, July 6, 2008

Massive Exodus From US Highways Predicted: Is Wisconsin Listening?

A new study predicts that $7-per-gallon gasoline would drive millions of vehicles from American highways and cause profound lifestyle shifts, not the least of which would be less demand for more new roads and lanes (highway capacity) and greater demand for transit.

Short summary, here.

Maybe gasoline won't get to $7, and maybe it will.

At least someone somewhere is thinking seriously about it, and has put together some data.

If planners at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission are doing the same thinking and number-crunching and big-picture analysis, they're keeping it to themselves.

All we can do is look at their recommendations and implemented plans:

* $1.9 billion spending about to begin on an eight-year rebuilding of I-94 between south Milwaukee and the Illinois state line, with 35 miles of new lanes in each direction.

* A widened Zoo Interchange (where State highway 45, I-94 and I-894 merge west of Milwaukee) moved to a more hurried beginning in 2012.

* About $3 billion in additional expansion and rebuilding throughout SEWRPC's seven-county region, ending in about 2025, give or take.

* An expanding gap between road-financing and revenues.

As I suggested here yesterday, there is a great need now for leaders in the public and private sectors to push SEWRPC and WisDOT to recalibrate their highway planning.

They need to formally shift away from their outmoded calculations of gasoline costing $2.30-per-gallon, with a 3% annual increase (this would put gas today at $2.51-per-gallon, which is nowhere near the still-escalating cost of $4.19), and get busy on shifting spending towards transit.

Part of the reason there is so little innovative, or even merely-reasonable reactive thinking in Wisconsin transportation policy, is the intrinsic and embedded power of the highway lobby in Wisconsin.

This money-driven coziness is historical, and bi-partisan, and it rules transportation policy planning and priority-setting in and around the Capitol.

With elected officials unlikely to seriously consider cost-cutting and alternative-planning initiatives, and with a regional planning commission without independence from WisDOT (it took $1 million from WisDOT to write the $6.5 regional highway plan - - a plan that WisDOT, the client, is now only too willing and eager to implement) - - it will fall to grassroots groups and influential editorial writers to wage a continuing campaign for less concrete and more transit spending.

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