Friday, March 20, 2009

Investigate Pabst Farms Interchange Spending

Eighteen months ago, I urged on this blog that there be a probe of the state's agreement to spend $21.3 million on an I-94 interchange to a mall at Pabst Farms that had not yet been built.

The spending seemed little more than a subsidy to serve one private property owner.

The project has been dropped by one developer, and picked up conceptually by another company that has substantially changed the design - - on paper - - from the original, upscale "lifestyle" center to an undistinguished group of planned big box and strip-mall chain stores.

Now, thanks to the outstanding reportorial work of Waukesha blogger Jim Bouman, we learn that with the project in limbo, and in an economy so bad that subdivision construction at Pabst Farms has been suspended, the state transportation department has already spent more than $8 million for land acquisition and other interchange planning and preparation expenses.

This is nothing less than a public subsidy to Pabst Farms and a maybe-mall builder, and cries out for an investigation - - especially as local communities like Milwaukee are being turned down for transportation stimulus project financing because projects are not "shovel-ready."

This is a horrible waste of precious public funds, and will pressure Oconomowoc to pony up $400,000 it once was assigned to spend on the project, as well as a similar $1.75 million expected from Waukesha County.

And has the mall developer put in its share of $1.75 million?

WisDOT was able to begin spending because the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission put the project on a fast-tracked eligibility list, so all the institutional power brokers in the region have had a role in this unfolding boondoggle.

Legislators should begin by asking the State Legislative Audit Bureau to probe the spending.


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