Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In Wisconsin, Reroute The Government/Road-Builder Complex

The Journal Sentinel today aligns itself editorially with our region and state's politically-untouchable Government/Road-Builder Complex, and criticizes a lawsuit aimed at forcing federally-funded transportation planning and spending to include transit improvements along with fresh pavement and ramps for cars and trucks.

A companion op-ed makes the stronger case for balanced spending and transportation options, so at least both sides of an important argument are there for comparison

What has happened is that the Government/Road-Builder Complex - - thanks to a $1 million taxpayer-paid state transportation department grant to our region's unelected planning commission [SEWRPC] - - is poised to break ground on another phase of a $6.5 billion reconstruction of our expensive, often-expanding regional freeway [not-so-free] system.

This time the Complex aims to spend $1.7 billion of public funds to rebuild the Zoo Interchange, where Waukesha County meets Milwaukee at I-94, I-894 and Highway 45 (plus work on feeder roads)  - - but the project, like the larger regional plan - - is so narrowly-drawn that not a nickel is targeted for cash-starved transit services available to everyone, but a necessity for the working poor, commuters without cars, seniors, youngsters, or people who choose not to drive.

The newspaper's editorial, which calls the lawsuit "well-intended, misguided," is here.

A counter, op-ed piece written by attorneys for the plaintiff groups that cites the plan's exclusion of "any transit component" is here.

The weakest part of the newspaper's case is arguing that the state's role in providing transportation availability does not extend equally to transit provision, as if the Wisconsin Department of Transportation had been renamed the State Highway Department, or that bus lines are not the equal of traffic lanes.

Weak also in telling advocates for broader, balanced transportation services to find funding for transit at the state and local levels, or in increased taxes, when that is near-politically and financially-impossible.

As the newspaper puts it:

The answer lies in obtaining more state aid for transit and in allowing local jurisdictions, such as Milwaukee County, to assess local taxes for transit, as county voters agreed to do in a 2008 referendum. In Wisconsin, the state plays a key role in funding transit, but providing those transit options is the responsibility of local governments, not the state Department of Transportation
And while the paper correctly points out that the Zoo Interchange facilitates commercial traffic from Green Bay to Chicago - - as the Interstate Highway System should - - data indicate that many trips on the entire regional freeway system are purely local, with drivers jumping on and off.

Why should federal transportation dollars flowing into these corridors through regional planners and state officials support local motorists' trips, but not equally underwrite improvements for transit users on similar or identical trips?

The plaintiff lawyers are looking for equity from public agencies when they plan and spend public transportation funds coming from the federal government - - collected from everyone.
While some interchange reconstruction may be necessary, spending tax dollars on a Cadillac highway expansion project while giving nothing to transit - not even a rusted-out clunker - is unreasonable and unfair. It's also unlawful: Federal law requires evaluation of all reasonable alternatives, not rejecting transit out-of-hand. And it requires a serious evaluation of social, employment, community and other project effects.
It's hard to argue with that, and I hope a Federal judge agrees.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

SEWRPC is a complete waste of taxpayer money. A coalition needs to be built, maybe with some of the Tea Party types(hello Jeff Gonyo), to cut all state and county funding from this toxic pile of bureaucratic crap.