Monday, December 7, 2020

Leave WI I-94 'billion-$-boondoggle' project shelved

Sure does look like the two-year budget Gov. Evers will propose next month will include substantial cuts because of COVID19's damage to the economy:

Wisconsin could face $2B deficit in next budget, report says

Here's one item that should be deleted before the document is submitted soon to the Legislature: planning that would revive and commit the state to spend $1.1 billion on the segment of I-94 that connects the Zoo interchange to the west and the Marquette Interchange to the east.

While that plan was being litigated on environmental justice grounds, Walker killed it in 2017 as unaffordable even though he had been championing the entire $6 billion+ regional 'free'-way expansion program since 2003.

Here's another reason to shelve the project: we know that polluting, publicly-financed projects disproportionately shove dirty air, health problems and economic disadvantages onto communities of color which have historically borne those burdens through government decision-making.

SE WI governments need to address segregation fueled by their decisions
As I have noted often on this blog, the disparities have been fueled by multiple actions by multiple layers of government as far back as the 1950's - - and 50 years later - - and often involve transit, such the Robin Vos-led prohibition against regional transit authorities which can move people to jobs and housing across local jurisdictional lines, to repeated threats to the sparse bus connections which do link urban workers with suburban employers.
In fact, civil rights and public health organizations had to force the Walker administration via litigation to provide a welcome, but hardly restorative sum - - $13.5 million in a billion-dollar project - - for transit during Zoo Interchange construction to put the work into compliance with federal law.

Many of these and related matters are not new to the region, and have been raised often: 

* Here, in 2020:

* Here, in 2019:

* Here, in 2018, even by some in Trump's EPA:

* Here, in 2017:

* And here, in 2010, through local and regional struggles which show how difficult it was to create an Environmental Justice Task Force, (EJTF), within the same Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission which wrote the regional freeway reconstruction plan years ago.

It's ironic that the EJTF noted in November meeting 2019 minutes that transit in Wisconsin - 

SEWRPC photo

- continues to lack dedicated financing and receives (see page 8 of the minutes) only 8 percent of the state's transportation funding.

Also remember that while most of the I-94 segment reconstruction would eventually come from federal funds, there are always state shares, state staff time expenses, and subsequent state interest payments that come principally from gas tax collections - and all of that limits state dollars available to other projects.

How this works was explained in a piece about the construction of the I-94 segment north and south of the Foxconn site.

Hard to build a case that economic justice and environmental justice are making for cleaner air over communities also being handed historically discriminatory government outcomes.

Note that that there is likely to be a greater emphasis on these matters in the incoming Biden administration -

Xavier Becerra Brings Environmental Justice to Forefront

Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services is the first state attorney general to create an environmental justice bureau.

- that we are seeing handled with intention in precisely the opposite way right through the final days of Trump's presidency

The Trump administration on Monday rejected setting tougher standards on soot, the nation’s most widespread deadly air pollutant, saying the existing regulations remain sufficient even though some public health experts and environmental justice communities had pleaded for stricter limits.

Making it clearer why the East-West I-94 project should stay on the shelf.


Allen said...

While I agree, it is my understanding that the state money comes out of a road slush fund paid with a combo of TIF money and gas tax.

I always get a kick hearing that the state "is providing a grant" to a community because the truth is they are just returning the local property taxes they commandeered.

There was a time when gas tax paid for those improvements.

James Rowen said...

Most of the money would be federal, but there is always a state share that used to be 10%, but is higher now, and state dollars will pay the interest, whether from the gas tax or general funds. Not to mention staff time. And many 'state' road projects include local spending - also in tight supply and much needed elsewhere.

James Rowen said...

@Allen - I added in the text a link to a story which explained how federal dollars the would pay for the I-94 expansion past the Foxconn site trigger eventual state borrowing.