Wednesday, October 22, 2008

WisDOT's Fantasies Will Take Their Toll

So WisDOT has commited to something like $3.25 billion to expand and rebuild Highway 41, and the Zoo Interchange AND I-94 between Milwaukee and Illinois - - and is talking out loud about another $715 million to widen 50 miles of I-39/90 from Madison to the Illinois line, too?

After having just swallowed $810 million to finish the Marquette Interchange?

Have cannabis products been legalized in Madison, and are they being injested at WisDOT's central office?

Gas tax collections - - the source of federal highway grants to the states - - are declining nationally because driving is down.

The highway trust fund is about broke, and the smart money is on lower funding for highways in the next transportation authorization, and perhaps more money devoted to transit.

WisDOT has been treading water for years in Wisconsin, over-promising on projects statewide (every hamlet of more than 50 people gets an eight-lane bypass) while over-spending and committing to freeway expansion to please contractors and sprawl developers across southeastern Wisconsin.

The only way the I-39/90 stretch could get done, and some of the other state projects, too, is through tolls.

As in toll roads.

All those in favor of having paid for roads through local, state and federal taxes, then paying again with a Wisconsin version of I-Pass, raise your hands.

Everyone else: hold onto your wallets, then sit down and write WisDOT a letter telling them to pay more attention to the real world, like potholes, better buses and new trains.

Let Illinois be Illinois; Wisconsin needs to commit to fixing the roads we have and investing all additional funds into transit.


Unknown said...


I don't understand why every Wisconsinite should have to pay for the highways via our property taxes to begin with. Implementing tolls at our highways should be able to eliminate this tax on our homes and businesses.

I'd be more than happy to raise my hand in support of tolls if it means our homes and businesses don't get directly taxed for our highways on our property taxes. I don't think it's fair for people who NEVER use the highways, such as the elderly, to be paying for them.

If anything is to be learned from Illinois, it's that so much money is made from the TriState Tollway that they don't know what to do with it. If I'm not mistaken, Jim, Illinois residents do NOT pay for any highways that are tollways on their property taxes.

James Rowen said...

I don't believe that tolls will replace all public funding for Wisconsin highways, or really support transit. I believe that tolls would make highways something of a class-based option, too.

Some toll roads are really expensive to use, so lower-income people will be relegated to the back roads.

Jack Lohman said...

The state legislature needs more cash to give to the road builders who fund their campaigns, and this is just one more way to tap the middle class.

Get used to it. Or change it. Get the money out of the political system and these guys will start voting for their people instead of their pocketbooks.

Jack Lohman

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the state simply implement another gas tax increase? Doyle and company seem to favor taxing anything that moves instead of curbing spending. I'm surprised there isn't a shoe tax to help pay for all the sidewalk reconstruction in downtown Milwaukee.

Anonymous said...

Given the state of the economy, expeditures of this magnitude certainly need to be scrutinized.

Jim, it's interesting that you point out that gas tax collections are not a good funding source because of the decline in miles traveled. By simply employing Doyle logic, then all Wisconsin needs to do is increase the gas tax, and then tack on an additional percentage that is at least equal to the percent decline in miles driven. Then, keep increasing the tax as miles driven decreases.

You also imply that perhaps additional taxes in the form of tolls are too much to add to our current local, state, and federal tax burden. If we are already taxed heavily, then how can a tax increase be chastized in one breath (road expenditures), and advocated in another (bus and trains), particularly when the chastized option actually benefits more people?

Consider that....

Light rail costs $50-75 million per mile (the $91 million of Federal funds tied up by Scott Walker would pay for 1.5 miles of track).

Ridership , on average, only covers about 20% of operations expenses. The remainder would be covered at taxpayer expense year after year after year.

Now, how many vehicles would benefit from proposed road improvements? Consider the average daily usage of (a) I-94 from Milwaukee to Kenosha - 110,000 vehicles; (b) I-894, i.e. Zoo Exchange - 132,500 vehicles; and (c) I-39/90 from Beloit to Madison - 37,000 vehicles? Multiply those numbers by average vehicle occupancy, and also consider that road improvements contribute to business commerce.

Light rail simply isn't cost effective.

In the current state of our economy, WisDOT must be prudent in it's use and collection of funds. A balance between road and bus mass transit must be considered. Light rail simply isn't cost effective.