The Scandalously High Cost of Shortchanging Transit

You will remember that Wisconsin was the state that, according to Gov. Scott Walker, couldn’t afford to operate an inter-city rail system, even with an $800 million federal start-up grant.

The cost for this one highway interchange in Wisconsin: $1.7 billion. Sorta makes intercity rail operating costs look paltry, doesn't it? Photo: Irdinc.com

But it turns out that having a transportation system based entirely on automobile travel isn’t exactly cheap. Now, instead of reaping savings, Wisconsin is drowning in highway bills.

According to James Rowen at Network blog The Political Environment, car congestion along the corridor that would have been served by the federal rail grant is prompting a $2 billion expansion:

An ideologically-motivated Republican state legislature killed planning for a commuter rail line to connect Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha, thus guaranteeing congestion on the I-94 corridor south to the Illinois line that is under $1.9 billion worth of reconstruction and widening for several more years.

Meanwhile, Southeast Wisconsin barely averted disaster for its transit system recently thanks to a one-time federal stopgap of a few million dollars.

On the other hand, highway spending is moving ahead full bore, with a menu that includes a $1.7 billion interchange rebuild:

The threats to transit are taking place while billions in new highway construction roar forward unrestrained. Walker fast-tracked the Zoo Interchange project (in a slightly reduced footprint, but still at an unaffordable cost of at least $1.7 billion [pictured above]) to appease the road-builders and Walker’s base constituency in Waukesha County.

But these days, cars are running more efficiently, and the depressed economy has eliminated some driving, leaving road budgets planned without restraints short of money because most of the needed revenue to build them comes from gasoline taxes.

So is the highway budget taking the sort of cut you’d expect in our broke state? Are you kidding?

The road-builders, serviced by campaign-donation-driven Legislative lap dogs, and by a Governor already double-talking around the issue, are looking to introduce tolls to fund these unsustainable concrete projects and dreams.

Boy. “Saving money” by shortchanging all modes of transportation except the automobile sure looks a lot like pouring money down the drain.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Commute By Bike shares a plea for tolerance of cyclists inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Baltimore Spokes marvels that bike trails have had a $42 million impact on the economy in Central Florida. And PubliCola reports that Seattle has received $900K to study expanding its streetcar system.