There’s Nothing Free About a Freeway Extension

In Milwaukee, some suburban leaders are hoping to extend I-794 out past the airport. Image: Dan Garnell/canhighways.com

There’s a double standard in American transportation. Propose a transit project, or even some extremely cheap bicycle or pedestrian improvements, and you’ll be met with a chorus of skepticism from politicians or local media about the high cost. Propose a highway project and few will even bat an eye at the price tag. Can you name the last highway expansion killed by a so-called budget hawk with great fanfare? They only seem to set their sights on rail and transit expansions, like New Jersey’s ARC Tunnel or various high-speed rail projects.

James Rowen at The Political Environment is sick and tired of it:

This is what passes for planning in Our Land of Highways:

The Milwaukee-area bus system is on life-support.

The commuter train through the South suburbs to Racine and Kenosha is dead, snuffed by talk radio and Legislative Republican led by the railophobic, transit-authority-averse Assembly Rep. Robin Vos, (R-Burlington).

And many area streets, maintained by cash-strapped municipalities, have potholes so deep they need Environmental Impact Statements and building permits for repairs…

…Yet South suburban leaders are asking for another $207 million in our deficit-ridden- toll-free, gas-tax dependent state to extend I-794 six miles – - at $34.5 million/per-mile – - past the airport (this is over-and-above the $6.4 billion regional free[sic]way improvement [sic] plan) just to cut five minutes off a daily commute on some local streets to or from Milwaukee.

And some of these leaders want the 794 rammed all the way south to Illinois, even though taxpayers are paying – - right now – - $1.9 billion to add a lane to I-94 just a few miles away also to the Illinois border from the south side of Milwaukee.

Call Walker’s Fraud and Waste Task Force. If this isn’t grand-scale public finance excrescence, what is?

Rowen goes on to catalog the wetlands, parkland and other environmentally sensitive areas that would have to be paved over to make room for the freeway.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Delaware compares the unrealized 1910 plans for the state’s Dupont Highway to the hostile arterial of today. This Big City looks at some ambitious proposals for bike infrastructure in London. And The Dirt highlights a gorgeous work of public art in a French village.