Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WisDOT revenue could decline: tax hikes on the way?

There are fewer miles being driven in fewer new trucks, depriving the Wisconsin Department of Transportation of funds needed for unneeded highway projects.

Are stealth taxes on the way? Indeed, we could very well be headed back to the days when state legislators, too timid to vote for tax increases they favor, make the increases automatic.

The only thing keeping the transportation fund growing over the next two years is Gov. Doyle's proposed oil company profits tax, according to projections by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Almost all of the $265 million in new revenue contained in the governor's proposed transportation budget comes from the oil fee, according to the LFB memo.

"Without these tax and fee changes, net transportation fund revenues would fall by 1.1% in 2009-10, relative to 2008-09, and by 0.3% in 2010-11, relative to 2009-10, due primarily to falling motor fuel tax collections and increasing revenue bond debt service," the memo said.

Since the oil tax seems to have a very slim chance of ultimate survival and since Doyle must keep the road builders fat, happy and busy because he is beholden to their campaign largesse and since he recently is opinining in favor of automatic gas tax indexing (which he recently opposed), get ready to pay more to drive less.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Obama: Highway hype, big time

President Obama declared this week that stimulus-funded transportation projects were coming in ahead of schedule and under budget.

What?! How would he know? Most of the projects aren't done; they aren't even started. Obama's press event was simply an opportunity to lay it on thick for an unquestioning press corp.

What will happen if massive cost overruns start occurring in two years? Who will pay those bills?

The stimulus package is funding some needed transportation projects and some silly, wasteful ones like expansion of North-South I-94 from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line. In addition, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation seems intent on sending regional stimulus money to Washington County and uber-rich River Hills, where it is needed far less than it is needed in Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

Come on, Mr. President. Pay attention to what is happening, and quit trying to sell as real what hasn't happened yet and perhaps never will.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Arthritis, highway proximity linked

Rheumatoid arthritis is a nasty, crippling disease.

Now the New York Times reports it may be linked to living near a highway.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Carpenter calls for halt to throwing money away on I-94 expansion; Bauman agrees

State Sen. Tim Carpenter this week called for the state to abandon its plan to expand North-South I-94, an effort that was applauded Thursday by Milwaukee Ald. Robert Bauman.

In announcing his opposition to freeway expansion, Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) cited findings from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's on environmental impact statement on the project.

"Reconstructionof this freeway is needed; expansion is not," he said. "Adding more lanes would increase the cost of the project by about $200 million to a total of $1.9 billion, but would provide littled ifference in travel times or any other significant benefit.”

That $200 million could create jobs related to fixing streets that are desperately in need of repair, he said.

"We should allow cities and towns to use such funds for greatly needed local road reconstruction, and pothole, sewer and water systems repair,” he said.

Gov. Jim Doyle and Transportation Secretary Frank Busalachhi are pushing ahead with freeway expansion, despite its limited benefits and high cost.

Spending $200 million on expanding the freeway “is an extravagance," Carpenter said. "It is not in the best of interests of Wisconsin taxpayers or drivers. When millions are needed for local infrastructure repair, spending $200 million on this freeway expansion is not prudent."

Bauman, in supporting Carpenter's stance, said that spending $200 million on expandion "is a massive waste of money during tough economic times that could and should be used instead to fix local streets and create job opportunities here.”

Bauman said the city's street pains are outlined in the findings of a comptroller's report. Among them:
  • 214 miles (approx. 20% of the city’s streets) are in “poor” condition and require “immediate replacement.”
  • Milwaukee has a total of 1,415 miles of roadway of which 1,024 miles are local residential streets (the others are state highways, arterials and collectors).
  • 448 miles (43%) of local streets are in fair condition; and 361 miles (35%) are in good condition.
  • The average age of local streets is 41.7 years.
  • The average life of a local street is 50 years.
  • The average cost to replace a mile of local street is $910,000.
  • The current replacement cycle for local streets is 106 years.
  • City budgets have underfunded local street replacement/reconstruction for at least two decades.
  • The 2009 city budget appropriated $10.3 million for local street onstruction/replacement.
  • The city would need to appropriate approximately $25.5 Million per year to achieve a 1:1 ratio of service life to replacement cycle (replacement of 28 miles of local streets per year).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Milwaukee stiffed again

It does not look like Milwaukee will get any road improvements with stimulus money, at least for now, although River Hills likely will fare nicely.

A Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission committee will meet Friday morning to consider three projects for funding. They are:
  • Reconstruction with additional traffic lanes of CTH Q between USH 41 and Pilgrim Road in Washington County—$3,500,000
  • Reconstruction with additional traffic lanes of CTH Y between CTH Q and STH 175 in Washington County—$3,658,000
  • Bridge rehabilitation of River Road bridge (1.2 Miles North of CTH P) over Indian CreekRiver in the Village of River Hills—$307,734

These selections, advanced to SEWRPC by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, seems to totally ignore federal direction that priority be given to projects in economically distressed areas.

What a travesty.

The SEWRPC committee will meet to discuss this at 9:30 a.m. Friday in the Milwaukee County Downtown Transit Center Harbor Lights Room, 909 E. Michigan St.