Saturday, November 29, 2008

Marquette Interchange -- just pocket change

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation's combined 2009-11 budget request for the North-South I-94 and Zoo Interchange reconstruction projects totals is almost as much as the entire $810 million cost of building the Marquette Interchange, records show.

The $766 million combined I-94/Zoo request -- which essentially are just start-up costs -- is a cool 95% of the Marquette price tag.

Get out your wallets, everybody. WisDOT is asking Wisconsin taxpayers to commit $195 million to the Zoo Interchange even though there is no design and no payment plan -- there is not even an environmental impact statement.

The money, WisDOT says, will be used "for design, real estate, and utilities," according to the budget request. "Design activities include the development of plans for anticipated improvements needed for traffic mitigation routes as well as formal plans for the first leg of the project once a preferred alternative has been selected. Utility work would include the relocation of electrical, water, sewer, and other utility lines needed to accommodate the reconstruction effort."

As for the North-South I-94 project, WisDOT is pushing forward with unneeded, unwanted freeway expansion in Milwaukee. The $571 million the department wants to spend on the project over the next two years includes $285 million in borrowing.

And remember the Hoan Bridge? WisDOT's records show it needs some fairly expensive work in the not-so-distant (2010 to 2013) future, and there has been much discussion about rebuilding it. The Hoan happens to not be mentioned at all in the 2009-11 budget request, setting taxpayers up for a really nasty surprise when they are asked in a few years to shell out for the continuing costs of the Zoo Interchange, I-94 North-South and the Hoan. These simultaneous projects will be more expensive than necessary because the state will be competing against itself for equipment and talent; they also will make getting around town via the freeway next to impossible because of traffic tie-ups and key interchanges.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

WisDOT requests 3% transit aid hike

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is requesting a 3% increase in transit aid for the next biennium, the largest it has sought in several years, but still a pretty cheesy increase compared to the new money WisDOT wants to spend on unneeded highway expansion in the area (more on this later).

WisDOT's request would increase Milwaukee County Transit System assistance by $1.6 million, to $67.3 million in FY10; and an additional $2 million in FY11.

In its request, WisDOT laid out its rationale:

With the high price of fuel, increasing highway congestion, and increasing environmental concerns, transit ridership in Wisconsin and the nation are at an all-time high. One notable exception is Milwaukee County which has cut service and increased fares. Even with record ridership, demand for transit services still outpaces availability as costs, mostly due to fuel costs, have increased at a much faster rate than general inflation and funding. Transit providers have been faced with reducing and discontinuing service, increasing fares, increasing local taxes, and, in many cases, have not been able to implement much-needed new services. The inability of funding to keep pace with costs has also prevented the establishment of new transit services in areas where they have not existed in the past, despite high demand. For these reasons, the requested percentage increase for transit operating aids is higher than what is being requested for most other programs.

In CY 08, the program provided an average of 36.5% of operating costs. While this represented a slight increase from 35.9% in CY 07, it has been decreasing steadily from 37.4% in CY 06, 38% in CY 05, and 39.2% in CY 04. In addition, these percentages do not take into consideration reductions in service, discontinued service, and increased local taxes that have resulted due to funding increases not keeping pace with costs.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Local roads will get worse under WisDOT budget proposal

Expect more potholes in your future because the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is requesting a one percent increase in local road assistance for municipalities and counties.

One percent! That's a boost of $4.3 million statewide out of a requested $397.1 million increase in the state transportation budget. General Transportation Aid funding would be $413.8 million in FY10 and $418.0 million in FY11 for municipalities and counties to help pay for construction, maintenance and operations of local roads. The cost of the materials to build and maintain those roads, meanwhile, has soared.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association said last month that "the cost of highway and street construction materials was up 22.2 percent in September 2008 compared to the same month last year. During the same time period, inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, was 4.9 percent. Over the last five years, between 2003 and 2008, the price of highway and street construction materials has risen 76.5 percent."

My oh my. That one percent increase in local aids WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi wants to dole out won't go very far for cash-strapped, levy-limited local units of government. Yet WisDOT is charging ahead with its foolish plans for unneeded, unwelcome freeway expansion in Milwaukee.

Way to set priorities, Mr. Busalacchi.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gluttony on the roads

Wow, the state is facing an estimated $5 billion deficit and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is seeking a 7.25%, or $397.1 million, budget increase over the next biennium, according to WisDOT's budget request. The agency budget would total $5.9 billion.

WisDOT also is projecting no increase in federal funding.

So who is picking up the tab for unneeded, unwanted freeway expansion? Wisconsin folk and, if WisDOT has its way, oil companies.