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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Deficits In Revenue and Reason Make Highway Expansions Boondoggles

Here's an excellent fact-based report from WISPIRG about how old data projections used by lobby groups and the state department of transportation can no longer be considered trusted evidence to support several state highway and interstate expansions. Among those listed in their report is the I39/90 corridor between the Illinois state line and Madison.

• Adding Lanes to I-90 south of Madison: The plan to widen Interstate 90 from four to six lanes is expected to cost $836 million. When the plan was hatched, official projections foresaw a 29 percent surge in traffic volumes between 2000 and 2010, but by 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, traffic volumes had inched up just 1 percent over the 12 years.

In my view, there's no question that several entry/exit approaches on I90 are non-conforming and should be restructured for safety reasons, but as you probably know I've been one of very few local voices opposed to the interstate expansion, and it's not so much that I oppose the expansion outright. Hey, if we can afford it, let's go five lanes wide both ways.

But with these expansions also come higher annual future costs to maintain, repair, clean and plow the wider roadways, and I have yet to see a report on those figures, or finding ways how the heaviest users will pay for the upkeep.

Truth is, we're losing the battle to pay for what we have now and the cost of many of these roadway expansions including sprawl growth vastly outweighs the return. I have history on my side to support that statement because here we are after 30 to 40 years of "expanding tax base" growth and we're stuck paying to do road replacement and maintenance all over again without one penny in trust to show for. In fact, we are in deficit on every level. Sooooo.

Sadly, the lobby groups that support the expansions are so bankrupt of ideas and principle, they don't even have a ways and means to pay for their honey projects. All they have is politics to get a piece of the action and they're conniving enough to convince a few key but gullible politicians to shift existing tax revenue streams away from local roads - to what they want - leaving us with an empty sack of treasury bags and endless referendums to vote new "wheel" tax increases on ourselves. In Janesville and Rock County, lobbyists win. The people lose.

My view was always IF you want "new" or expansions of anything, come up first with proposals for "new" revenue mechanisms to pay for the new. Get that passed in the legislature and city councils first, instead of eyeballing existing revenue that pays for the "existing." Revenue that barely keeps us rolling as it is.

Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings on this but we are getting HOSED from every angle. Again and again.

Sorry to go off in that direction for this posting on WISPIRG's excellent "Boondoggle" report, but if you support these expansions in our zero-sum budget environment with deficits in both revenue and reason, you can't say you weren't warned otherwise.

The final passages in WISPIRG's press release asks for a new direction. I totally agree.

Rather than squander tax dollars on overbuilding highways, let’s prioritize the repair and maintenance of our existing infrastructure and the transit and bike improvements that we need to compete in the 21st century.”

With limited resources dedicated to repair, Wisconsin has 1,157 bridges that engineers have deemed “structurally deficient,” according to the most recent (2013) National Bridge Inventory tabulated by the Federal Highway Administration.

“Why should Wisconsin prioritize spending on this highly questionable highway expansion while over a thousand bridges remain structurally deficient and other more deserving projects are ignored?” asked Speight.

WISPIRG - Full Highway Boondoggles Report pdf.


BDN - Beloit To Propose Flat Budget and doubling their wheel tax from $10 to $20.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it's doubly ironic, because at the federal level, Repubs demand dollar-for-dollar spending cuts whenever programs are expanded or created. And the feds don't have to balance the budget, whereas states do, and yet here in Wisconsin, the GOP is happpy to borrow like crazy to stuff dollars into the pockets of their road-building pals.

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