Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wisconsin's road-building con again revealed

So a state audit finds Wisconsin is vastly over-spending on road projects because the estimated costs were low-balled and now we can't pay the bills.

I find nothing surprising about it: Wisconsin's road-building record has long been a scandal.

Two days ago, on January 24th, in a posting about Wisconsin failing to make an apparent first cut of Donald Trump-prioritized infrastructure projects in line for federal financing, I wrote this lede:

Too bad Wisconsin right-wing GOP Gov. Scott Walker set back rail manufacturing in Wisconsin, blocked the Milwaukee-Madison Amtrak extension and has no comprehensive state transportation plan except over-scheduled, under-financed 'plums' now-stalled - - poorly planned projects set in motion unsustainably to please his road-builder and legislative pals.
And in June, 2015, I put this lede on a post:
Data has been available for a long time exposing Wisconsin's lobbyist-driven plan to over-borrow-and-spend on wider highways the public doesn't want or need or can afford (think I-94 from Miller Park to the man-made mess known as the Zoo Interchange or the projected expansion of I-39/90 from Rockford to the Wisconsin Dells, for just two among many examples).
And a few months earlier, I'd noted, how many times do you have to ask?
Again, and again.
And not just near Milwaukee, as the battle goes on against State Highway 23.
But props to citizen blogger Gretchen Schuldt for taking the time to discover how the agency is using data to unleash the bulldozers and inflate state debt:
The “large urban freeways” WisDOT cites to justify its east-west I-94 expansion project carry an average of just 34% of I-94′s traffic load, according to WisDOT data.
Similarly, Jeff Gonyo and his fiscally-conservative suburban and rural allies who have been trying for years - - with some success in the courtroom - - to block the wasteful and unjustified expansion of State Highway 164 in Western Waukesha County north into the hills of Washington County brought their energy and facts to a recent state budget hearing:
And in November of 2014, barely able to contain myself, I wrote:
Understanding the Walker/GOP/road-builder complex spending binge
To fully appreciate Team Walker's recklessly wasteful 'plan' to beg, borrow and otherwise tax you for the fresh billions that make all the road-builders' dreams come true - - to the year 2032! - - imagine that your selfish, estate-plundering drunken uncle has just presented you with a holiday wish list and scheme to keep himself satisfied, solvent and soused for the foreseeable future by diverting the lion's share of the family's already-debt laden assets into a trust which he manages, and can spend, at will.
My point being: this is nothing new.

People like former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist for whom I worked between 1996 and 2004 fought for years against bloated WisDOT over-spending and over-building during gubernatorial administrations of both political parties, and even offered unsuccessfully an alternative plan crafted by city engineers to cut nearly $400 million from the roughly $8o0 million finally spent on the expanded Marquette Interchange and that also cost the city mightily in lost taxable property. 

And I have recounted often on this blog - - an example, here - - that the Marquette was just the first step in a $6.4 billion (in 2002 dollars) Southeastern Wisconsin Freeway rebuilding and reconstruction plan which will add with all its maintenance and related costs going forward 127 new mile lanes across seven counties - - a road-builders' dream 

written by the sprawl-inducing and suburban-tilting Southeastern Regional Planning Commission through a $1 million WisDOt grant without, as Norquist pointed out, any financing plan.

The seven-county proposal motion moved out of a SEWRPC fait-accompli project advisory committee on a motion made by then-Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker

Which is why I titled a 2009 analysis of that reality "Freeway financing shell game exposed."

SEWRPC also gave its blessings in writing to the more expensive Marquette Interchange option.

Which is why I wrote in 2008:

It is a closed loop, planned and implemented by and with state and federal dollars spent in Southeastern Wisconsin predicated on the either/or scenario.
Highways, yes. $6.5 billion worth between 2004-2030.
Rail and other transit, no new dollars...
This imbalance in planning and spending on transportation is embedded because the lobbies for highways are stronger, better-positioned and richer than are the advocates for transit.
Wisconsin's debt-ridden highway spending is a multi-agency, perpetual private-public con, and it is completely fair politically that the burden for resolving it falls to Scott Walker - - though he is likely to pass on the pain to taxpayers, their children and numerous public services that will be starved of needed funding so the big con can be made to disappear.

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