Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Will River Hills Get Poverty Funding? We'll Know Wednesday

For fifth time, a committee of Milwaukee area government representatives will meet Wednesday and wrangle over the allocation of millions in local transportation project dollars in a federal stimulus account established for "economically-distressed communities."

So far, the committee has been stymied, as River Hills, Mequon and a couple of other upper-income suburbs - - about as far from "economically-distressed" as you could get - - have seen their projects magically rise to the top of the list of eligible bridge and road repairs and expansions created by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

City of Milwaukee reps at the earlier meetings have cited demographic facts and cried foul, so money has not been allocated.

The committee meeting takes place at 1 p.m. in the 2nd-floor Harbor Lights conference room at the Milwaukee County Downtown Transit Center, at E. Michigan Ave. and Lincoln Memorial Dr.

The agenda is here.

Milwaukee consistently shows up at the top of other lists, such as urban unemployment, and distance from job opportunities; stimulus spending is supposed to attack structural problems and inequities that keep cities like Milwaukee so poor.

Milwaukee has far more poverty than many of its suburban neighbors, where jobs are more plentiful while home values or family income totals completely dwarf comparable Milwaukee data.

Heck: You can't even build a house on a lot smaller than two acres in River Hills; five acres is preferred, according to the zoning code - - so on the one hand, River Hills zones out individuals and families that are in economic distress, but is only too happy to lobby for and accept their federal funding.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has done a great job explaining, cajoling and demanding that the money be spent as it was intended, and, by the way, as the stimulus law says it must be spent.

And while there may be some sort of compromise that will get the funding rolling, it won't be forgotten soon that out-of-touch agency leaders at WisDOT in Madison, and legislators like State Sen. Alberta Darling, (R-River Hills), tried hard to divert these critical federal dollars away from Milwaukee to wealthier communities that can afford to be farther back in line.


jpk said...

It's not only that River Hills and other suburban communities can afford this. In my view, the major point is that the econmoic stimulus has more bang for its buck when spent in denser areas.

Economically, public spending makes most sense when a greater number of people benefit from it.

Stimulus needs a more urban centric strategy - because the externalities of fed $ reach more people.

James Rowen said...

To JPK: You are correct. Thanks for adding that.

Michael Horne said...

The bridge, by the way, dates to the 1920's. Horrors! It spans Indian Creek -- not the Milwaukee River, as some might imagine.
I could span Indian Creek by lying across it.
The Wisconsin Avenue Bridge in Washington D.C. just south of "M" Street dates to 1820, by contrast.
River Hills just poked around its petty infrastructure until it found a project that was old and therefore sounded like it needed to be redone.
I would like to suggest Stimulus Funds could be used to enhance bicycle lanes in River Hills. My ride up to visit my brother on Range Line Rd. and my Mother off of County Line Rd. would be much more safe and pleasant if River Hills gave us dedicated bicycle lanes.