Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Proof That The Regional Free(sic)Way Plan Is Out-Of-Control

When the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission was putting the final touches on its $6.5 billion freeway expansion and rebuilding project plan, then-Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist said the plan should include a fiscal blueprint explaining how it would be financed.

He often said "freeways" was a misnomer, because they certainly weren't free.

The SEWRPC advisory committee that wrote the plan declined to recommend a financing plan as Norquist suggested, but did include in its formal recommendation that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation provide the Governor and state legislature a financing plan for each segment of the 25-30 year plan as they unfolded.

See the relevant SEWRPC committee minutes, pages 10-11, here - - and while I regret that Norquist's initial recommendation was not approved, I wonder how detailed WisDOT's segment-by-segment financing work has really been.

That's because Gov. Jim Doyle today told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was slowing down work on the Zoo Interchange phase - - a segment he had moved up on the schedule about three years ago to mollify Waukesha County politicos who were demanding a quicker fix for their constituents' mini-commutes - - because the projected cost of the Zoo Interchange was going to exceed that of the Marquette Interchange.

That's a stunner.

And reflects a whopping expansion of the estimates, as the Marquette Interchange came in at $810 million, and was only shrunk on paper from the $1 billion+ first estimated by the failed McCallum administration because the parameters of the Marquette Interchange were reduced.

And Doyle indicated a willingness to consider tolling some Wisconsin highways - - something sure to cause an uproar, because Wisconsinites consider tolls to be an Illinois-style burden and foreign to people on our side of the border.

There is $200 million of untrimmed fat in the $1.9 billion I-94 North-South segment for 70 miles of new lanes that Doyle is keeping on schedule even though the need for that fourth lane is not supported by the data.

All in all, it's proof that freeways aren't free, and that the real way to reduce the cost of these bloated projects is to trim or cancel them.

A final note: When the full SEWRPC commission approved the advisory committee plan - - also thus approving freeway expansion in the City of Milwaukee opposed by both the Milwaukee Common Council and Milwaukee County Board in separate votes, then sent it off to the state - - it washed its hands of fiscal responsibility, saying it was the state's responsibility to prioritize and spend transportation money.

The Commission also said, on p. 237 of its final, approved plan, that there was only a "modest gap" of $50 million annually that the state would be raising and spending on transportation projects.


"Modest gap?"

Apparently not.

Some planning.

[Disclosure: I worked for Mayor Norquist while the freeway plan was being written and attended the meetings to which I linked and referred.]


Anonymous said...

I'd rather not see any freeway expansion, but if they are going to expand I'd at least like the new lanes to be built as HOT (Toll/express/carpool lane).

James Rowen said...

Will we see all major highways tolled? I-90/39? Highway 41 N/S?

Or is this for SE Wisconsin, where poverty is concentrated?