Saturday, April 22, 2017

How Walker leaves WI with more years of potholes, deficits

In the short-term, Wisconsin's roads and road budgets are a mess.

Long-term - - expect more of the same.

So while right-wing WI GOP Gov. and road-builders'-enabler-at-all-costs Scott Walker is trying to keep the crumbling roads and under-funded transportation budget patched through the 2018 election, let's take a deeper view here.

So, yes, it's no secret that Wisconsin's rutted roads are crumbling (second-worst in the nation).

And, yes, there's been much reporting of late about how Walker plans to address some of the issues by delaying completing one Milwaukee-area mega-project - - the Zoo Interchange (producing a temporary savings of $292 million).

But remember:

When Walker was Milwaukee County Executive in 2003 - - and with his first (and unsuccessful) run for Governor not too far in the future but with messages being sent to the road-builder lobby - - Walker made the key motion to add 19 more miles of costly new lanes in Milwaukee County that neither the Milwaukee Common Council or Milwaukee County Board supported.

Which ran the total projected cost - - much of which is at the heart of today's dilemmas - - up to $6.23 billion.

Details about all that, here.

How many of you recall that as Walker set the current transportation mess into motion, his only worry was that recommending the spending of $6.23 billion down the road might be insufficient!

“I believe that you have to have … a transportation plan that meets our needs,” said Walker, adding that SEWRPC’s $6.2 billion plan may not be foresighted enough. 
Some key numbers, as we move along:

*  Note that the Zoo Interchange project represents a mere 20% or so at $1.7 billion of the massive Southeastern Wisconsin Freeway [free?] reconstruction plan's projected cost in 2003 dollars of $6.23 million (full description as recommended by the regional planning commission, here).

*  That regional plan which Walker said might need even more elements calls for adding 127 mile lanes to the existing 270 which stretch across seven counties - - a 47% increase in lane miles - -  and is the major reason that transportation needs statewide, from local repairs to additional new projects to transit systems ignored, are chronically underfunded and will continue that way for years unless the entire transportation system is redefined.

Which is unlikely.

So, more math:

*  The $6.23 billion regional plan began with the Marquette Interchange reconstruction and expansion - - completed at a cost of $800 million.

*  $1.7 billion is committed to the Zoo - - and now with delays projected.

*  $1.65 billion is committed to I-94 north/south from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line - - with long-running delays that are the source of GOP Racine County State Rep. and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' continuing meltdown.

*  The $1 billion stretch of I-94 East/West connecting the Zoo and Marquette Interchanges is supposed to be up next, but is stalled as much for a lack of cash on hand and as intense local objections and geographical/construction complications.

So in rough round numbers, we're looking at $5+ billion spent or committed - - or about 80% of the estimated revenues needed for all SE WI 'freeway' segments - - though the dollars to complete them are not in hand and new state revenues or Trump infrastructure contributions to get the jobs done may or may not appear.

I'm aware that some of the completed or now-delayed segments came in under budget, or have been reduced in projected cost, but I'm also aware that the final cost of the Marquette Interchange was lowered by simply trimming the footprint of the segment - - thus pushing more costs into segments not yet built - - so I'm sticking with the original $6.23 billion price tag.

Anyway - there are several huge SE regional plan segments yet to begin or be funded.

We have been told for years that whole plan across all seven counties is one integrated program.

That all segments connect and prop each other up to make the entire machine move traffic, but with only modest congestion improvements (and note also that no new transit dollars which could also reduce traffic congestion are included concrete-only segments get funded), including:

*  I-43 south from Milwaukee, across Waukesha County and across Walworth County, to the Illinois state line.

*  I 43 north from Milwaukee, across Ozaukee County, to the Sheboygan County line.

*  I-94 west from the Zoo Interchange, across Waukesha County, to the Jefferson County line.

New lanes. Wider ramps. 'Improvements' to some connections roads, as is evident in the scope of what is called the Zoo Interchange beyond merely I-94. Property to be acquired - - all of which costs money.

Anyone think all that work can be done for the roughly uncommitted $1.1-2 billion of the original $6.23 regional system's expansion and rebuilding price tag?

And remember - - there are multiple transportation needs statewide, from big projects to local pothole repairs - - that have to be addressed far, far from the SE Wisconsin seven-county extravaganza.

Walker, his road-builder friends and Legislative enablers began to leave the bills for future generations when they recommended through an unelected regional planning body working on and adding 127 more lanes to the entire SE Wisconsin major highway grid.

But left the financing details to others.

Politically these big spenders should be made to own it, but you know that the rest of us and our children and their children will end up covering their tab long after Walker has left the scene for an ambassadorship or Deputy Secretary of Something or a right-wing think tank chair or rightist advocacy group's soft landing.

No comments: