Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Road To Sprawlville, Chapter XVIII: Beating The Commute By Sleeping In The Truck

In this blog's latest installment about sprawl 'development,' we use a lengthy catalogue in the Madison Capital Times to grasp the sickening realities facing commuting motorists.

The "Sprawlville" series usually focuses on the greater Milwaukee area, where few farms and wetlands have been safe from developer depravation and road-building excess, but don't worry, I'll bring this chapter to a close with some local southeastern Wisconsin information.

But the Capital Times finds local folks there dealing with $100 fill-ups, evaporation of home equities in too-far-from Madison housing, and this stunner:

One Spring Green woman's overnighting once a week in her truck at a state park that has good showers to avoid the long and costly return trip home that day.

That, my friends, is what is called "unsustainable," even if the campsite is serene.

What's next: selling the house and pitching a permanent tent in the state park?

Homes in walkable neighborhoods in cities or close-in, older suburbs, especially when served by modern transit, will hold their values and owners' investments better than properties in more rural sites, regardless of how beautiful the surroundings may be.

Imagine how well-situated are the residents along Milwaukee's downtown riverfront, or in Third Ward condos, with jobs, night life, shops and The Public Market within walking distance.

I happened to be in the Third Ward today, and the area was bustling. It still felt growing, and successful.

I also was out in Pabst Farms a few days ago. That's the huge upscale planned (sic) community in far western Waukesha, not far from the Jefferson County line, where some entire subdivision construction has been suspended.

Aurora's big hospital is going up on former farmland south of I-94, and there was some home-building underway in some of the residential portions north of the highway, but there were also plenty of "sale" signs, one "sold" sign (I didn't tour all the subdivisions on the 1,500-acre site) and very, very few people out and about at 11:45 a.m.

The parking lots at some of the shops were perhaps half-full, and ground has not been broken on the delayed mega-mall still ticketed for acreage in the complex, though anchor tenants have not been announced, one mall developer last year bailed out altogether and a related plan to dun state and local taxpayers $23+ million for a full diamond interchange off I-94 to service the mall from both east and west is also on hold.

And that uncertainty was well underway before gas approached, then blew through, the $4 barrier.

Expensive gas is our new, pain-at-the-pump-and-in-the-you-know-what-paradigm.

I saw it this week in Waukesha County priced at a jaw-dropping $4.399 cents-a-gallon at the Mobil station at I-94 and State Highway 164, with perverse appropriateness, just a few yards south of the headquarters of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

That's the agency that provided the State Transportation Department with a plan in 2003 to rebuild and expand the so-called freeway system in the region's seven counties at a cost to the public of $6.5 billion.

The plan included traffic projections based on gasoline priced at $2.30-a-gallon in 2005, with 3% annual increases thereafter, putting it for the planners' purposes at $2.51 today.

Ouch.

Yet included in the plan are 127 miles of new freeway lanes, some of which will run right past Pabst Farms when the last stages of this round of freeway construction is completed in about 15-20 years.

And highway planners across the Midwest are lobbying as we speak for more gas taxes to build more roads.

Unless there is a change in the planners' math and our politicians' mindsets, the next schedule of freeway expansion will no doubt be moving from the drawing boards to the contracting bidding process.

If state and regional planners don't pull the current freeway expansion plan off the books right now - - $1.9 billion is about to be committed to an eight-year binge on I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line, adding 70 miles of new lanes - - and substitute comprehensive transit investments instead, we'll be literally throwing away billions into the highway-expansion maw.

As with the woman from Spring Green beating some of her commuting costs to Madison by sleeping between cities in her truck, it's an unsustainable model.

Building more and wider highways will help neither city dwellers looking for transit, and their exurban and small-town compatriots who are stranded in the boonies by fuel costs that will keep on rising.

2 comments:

terry said...

Truth be known James, anything west of Breese Terrace and anything east of 1st street is sprawl. Having just passed through Madison to another life, you might have missed that. Liberals would rather deny the virtues of growth than try to use it for social good, that is why Madison schools are now in a state of deterioration and people are moving to Waunakee, DeForest, Verona and Sun Prairie in search of common sense and better schools.

Could growth be better managed? Perhaps, but by denying that any growth is good, we end up with what we have. Thanks for passing through.

James Rowen said...

Ah, Terry: Sprawl is west of Breese Terrace? You jest, I'm sure.

And Madison liberals somehow responsible for the ills of public education, while the good life beckons in the real Sprawlville.

Please.

I know people who live in Sun Prairie - - in fact, I passed through there recently - - and all they do is gripe about the traffic, and tha began before $4 gas.

I am sure the schools are good there, but whether folks are finding peace of mind as they exercise common sense, well, we'll see.

I've never said growth is bad.

But I will go farther than you do, and say it can and should be better managed. You can keep the wimpy qualifier "perhaps."