Saturday, August 2, 2008

Support For A Green Economy - - But One Sector Is Missing

The Journal Sentinel gives a broad and detailed editorial endorsement of green initiatives for the state's economy, echoing the work of the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming.

Wisconsin is well-positioned to help itself with industrial, agricultural and academic programs that can make the state ready to meet the world that is coming our way with renewable energy generation, new technologies, job-training-and- creation in the post-cheap petroleum era - - call it what you will.

We know that things are changing fast, that the world our grandchildren will live in just down the road is going to be very different from the world of today, and that smart people in both the public and private sectors are getting ready to embrace that change right now.

But there is one pipeline of state spending still being poured into a consuming segment of the old, pre-$4-a-gallon gasoline economy - - transportation.

Wisconsin is still dedicated to unsustainable highway building - - not merely road repairs and upkeep - - but to 127 miles of new lanes on its Southeastern regional freeway system, at a projected cost of $6.5 billion.

And to significant projects across the state that push development farther from cities, through farm land and wetlands.

Yet, we know that people are driving less, that the expectation and need for modern transit is growing, that people are indicating a preference for relocating closer to their jobs, that air quality standards are getting tougher, that high fuel and shipping costs are even re-igniting an interest in local food production - - all suggesting that sprawl development enabled through highway expansion that eats up land and produces more driving, dirty air and fuel

Out of necessity.

But the state forges ahead with its highway expansion plans - - and no one in state government is willing to rethink it, slow it down, and then act by re-directing some of that funding - - even 10% - - into the beginning of a true regional rail system, to local road repairs or urban transit.

The City of Milwaukee has asked the state to do exactly that with its planned 2009-2017 reconstruction and expansion of I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line.

The Common Council and Mayor suggested swapping the planned 70 miles of new lanes in that corridor for a commuter rail line serving Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee - - and the state transportation department said "no."

Way too much trouble to rethink it now - - though there hasn't been a shovel stuck into the ground.

What this means is that the urgency driving the fresh development of greener systems and approaches of all kinds in the real world is being diminished by our state's political subservience to the highway lobby at the Capitol.

No one is suggesting an end to road-building.

But now is the right time to introduce some balance of allocated transportation dollars between roads and transit, to blend fiscal conservatism with land conservation so there is money available for the transit, pedestrian and biking alternatives that have been starved of funding since the 1950's.

Alternative forms of transportation offer good jobs in rail construction, train operation and maintenance, just as does highway construction.

And you'd get housing and commercial development along rail lines and at transit stops and stations, as has happened in other US cities, not to mention in Europe and elsewhere.

What's wrong with some transportation balance, and some new priorities, that would be good for job development, tax-base expansion, land conservation and air quality, too?

A truly green economy would put alternative transportation at the top of its agenda.

In Wisconsin, it's more of a footnote.

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