Thursday, December 4, 2008

Discrimination Alleged In I-94 Planning: Echoes Of SEWRPC Complaints

The ACLU of Wisconsin has filed a discrimination complaint against the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, alleging that the $1.9 billion north/south rebuilding and expansion of I-94 harms low-income and minority residents of Milwaukee to the benefit of whiter, wealthier suburbanites.

Here is a summary release about the complaint, which I will post later.

The Milwaukee Common Council earlier this year formally objected to the project, but WisDOT and the feds have done what they do - - turned a deaf ear to the Council - - because the highway agencies first serve their contractors, and then, perhaps, the general public.

You may recall that the ACLU earlier this year filed two separate complaints with federal regulators against the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission that alleged discrimination in hiring, committee representation and regional highway and transportation planning - - again claiming that public resources, whether jobs or construction dollars, are being allocated so that the benefits disproportionately benefit wealthier, whiter taxpayers.

These complaints are important for four reasons:

1. They raise awareness of issues and realities that need more visibility.

2. They point policy-makers in the direct of institutional reforms that should be made so that our agencies and larger society continues to override discrimination.

3. They remind us that SEWRPC and WisDOT are closely linked: WisDOT paid SEWRPC $1 million to draft the regional freeway plan, and that alliance has worked against the environment and reduced the tax base in Milwaukee.

4. They offer remedies.

Everyone owes the ACLU their gratitude, because the value and integrity of our rights is dependent on their being equally available to us all.


Anonymous said...

Stretching to make a somewhat tenuous connection from here to the comments in the "Green Jobs Push," posting yesterday, the discrimination described in the ACLU complaint is symptomatic of the overall problem of inequity of wealth distribution and difficulty of organizing the needed action to change the status quo on several fronts.

I see overall wage scale for the blue collar portions of the "green," jobs (that might occur with a public transit project verses outdated road building) is going to continue to decline as it has for the last thirty years. The large unemployed, skilled and semi-skilled work force in desperation for any work, will be satisfied to get any job to feed their families and keep a roof over their family's head. "Green," and public works projects aimed at more equitably serving the needs of a particular regional population, won't necessarily solve the wealth equity disparities existing today without more of a concerted effort from the lower echelons of workers.

I don't hold out much prospect for insurance companies giving up their bloated costs in the pursuit of actual universal health "care," for the bulk of workers. I am skeptical about the "too big to fail," monopolistic corporate structures or state agencies (Wis DOT) changing their ways of seeking lowest cost workers regionally or world-wide. I see the R&D (technical), middle and upper management positions along with the investment capital controllers, skimming off or merely absorbing much of the available money and profit from better productivity or other general efficiencies and savings that should occur with "greener," practices and services. Trickle down will remain trickle down and I am afraid with another full turn downward on the spigot.

Ideas for killing these two birds with one stone need examination and imagination.

Anonymous said...

I think calling this discrimination pushes the envelope pretty far, and I'm a libertarian. I generally see civil rights where most others don't, and even I don't see civil rights in this aspect of the project.

The nature of eminent domain takes is over very serious concern for me, but I think public roads are generally a very good public use for eminent domain (as opposed to taking land and giving to another private developer).

With that said, this may be bad POLICY... but that does not mean discrimination. There are plenty of bad policies out there where I think money is being misdirected.

Not getting your precious choo choo train like you always wanted around your Christmas tree is not discrimination.

James Rowen said...

To Nick: It's discrimination if public resources are being directed in ways that cause harm to certain groups.

And if there is a pattern, which I think is undeniable.

I am continually amazed at this mocking use of "choo choo" train.

How is it that most other cities in the country have managed to integrate rail with buses without the emotional reactions so common here?

Anonymous said...


Federal rules, passed to enforce Title VI of the civil rights act, state that recipients of federal funds (like WisDOT) cannot operate in a manner that has the effect of discriminating against persons of color. This isn't an allegation of WisDOT intentionally taking actions to harm people of color (though I'm sure there are some who would make that case), but the way it chooses to operate its transportation and infrastructure programs, and the choices it makes about what it will do and what it will not do, are methods of administration that have the effect of discriminating.

That's why it's a civil rights problem.