Thursday, February 19, 2009

Doyle, tolls, and Lexus lanes

Gov. Jim Doyle told the JS that the state doesn't have enough transportation funding. Along the way, he said the Zoo Interchange project might have to be delayed (given his recommended funding levels for the Environmental Impact Statement it will be delayed), gutted the reasoning behind expanding North-South I-94, potentially nullfied that project's Environmental Impact Statement and floated the ideas of toll roads and Lexus lanes.

And all in one interview!

Impressive, but it took Mayor Tom Barrett only three sentences to remind Doyle of the embarrassing neglect the state has heaped upon local roads. From hizzoner the mayor:

"We are still missing the fundamental point. We have to have a better balance between local road maintenance and state highway expansion. I'm certainly not excited about any type of toll roads for state highway expansion without addressing the fundamental issue of how we pay for local road maintenance."

Perhaps Doyle's most outrageous idea was turning the planned fourth lanes of North-South I-94 into Lexus lanes, open to motorists willing and able to pay special tolls to use them. The Department of Transportation's shoddy planning and work on the EIS for the project already has led to a civil rights complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union. That complaint, among other things, alleges that WisDOT itself acknowledges that adding the lanes will have only minimal effects on travel times and will hurt efforts to redevelop older commercial strips in Milwaukee, where joblessness and poverty are high. WisDOT did not evaluate the project or transit alternatives as required under civil rights law, according to the complaint.

The ACLU also notes that WisDOT rejected a request from the City of Milwaukee -- the state's only minority-majority city -- not to add the lanes.

And now the governor is talking about economically segregating those additional lanes! Milwaukee residents will suffer most of the consequences of freeway expansion -- the increased noise, air pollution, potential flooding and polluted runoff -- but would be least likely to be able to use that added lane, given the poverty statistics.

In addition, a segregated lane could defeat the stated purpose of expansion, which is to ease overall congestion. If the lane for rich people moves smoothly, but the lanes for the rest of us don't, has WisDOT accomplished its mission? If one lane moves smoothly, but three lanes don't, doesn't that gut WisDOT's already absurd argument that adding lanes reduces air pollution? And do we really want to damage economic development efforts in Milwaukee by expanding the freeway so rich people can drive faster?

WisDOT argues that adding lanes is good for neighborhoods because, without the additional capacity, cars will leave crowded freeways and use city streets instead, jamming local streets and irritating neighborhood residents (WisDOT generally overlooks the benefits of street traffic to businesses that rely on it). If the added I-94 lanes are only for people who can pay for them, what will keep people on the other three still-jammed lanes from leaving the freeway to crowd on those same city streets?

It appears very much that Gov. Doyle approved a freeway expansion so unnecessary that the additional lanes can be reserved for a select group who will be charged to use it so the state can pay for the unneeded expansion. The real solution would be to drop expansion plans, spare Milwaukee the economic and environmental costs and use the money for some real transportation improvements -- namely, transit.

1 comment:

Jason Lusk said...

I'm an advocate for transit and certainly no fan of road expansion. Nevertheless, if Madison insists on spending hundreds of millions on freeway expansion in Metro Milwaukee, I would argue that 'Lexus Lanes' are the best progressive solution. They impose a higher tax on those most prepared to pay it.

I would feel differently if tolls were imposed on all lanes of traffic, or if one of the existing three lanes of traffic were converted into a Lexus Lane, thus forcing the rest of us into one of the two slower moving lanes. But if WisDOT wants to ignore local input and add a 4th lane, I'd rather they charge drivers to use it than rely solely on tax revenue.