Two Ways to Sustain Wisconsin’s Highway Racket: Tolls or Crushing Debt

It’s the 1950s all over again in Wisconsin, where — as we’ve reported before — there seems to be an undying faith among political leaders that highway spending will restore prosperity, despite the fact that more forward-thinking regions are investing in things like tearing down highways.

Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottleib called the widening of 39/90 "a $715 million vote of confidence for Wisconsin." State leaders are engaging in a game of high-stakes gambling with the public's money when it comes to roads. Photo: The State Journal

Since Scott Walker became governor, touting himself as a fiscal conservative, Wisconsin has embarked on a bonanza of highway spending, including a $1.7 billion interchange, a $207 million highway expansion, and a $25 million “interchange to nowhere.”

This week, “budget conscious” state leaders pulled the trigger on a $715 million highway widening that the State Journal called “one of the most expensive highway projects in state history.”

James Rowen at The Political Environment skewers the sheer recklessness of it all and questions whether electeds have the stomach to actually pay for the highway binge.

It’s an open-and-shut case. Just get us some new lanes and screw the price – - which does not appear on the official WisDOT Q&A web page for the project, because cost is not a real part of the discussion.

Can we afford it? Not important: Just build it and charge it. knowing the full cost gets buried in the fine print of out-year budgets long after the eight years of construction has ended and everyone is distracted by the new lanes and ‘improvements’ grabbing our attention elsewhere.

But it’s a real question. Because this time the state’s share is growing to 30%, a lot more than the typical 10-20%, with the federal government picking up a smaller share of the tab.

How about the State Legislature – - now content to bill residents through stiff per-gallon gas and other taxes, and bonding interest – - instead talked up and bought into tolling the road to come up with some of the state’s $200+million share – - and also collected tolls to pay for the ‘routine’ annual maintenance, plowing, patrolling and repairing costs no one ever adds to projects’ bottom lines.

Tolls, anyone? I didn’t think so.

Elsewhere on the Network today: M-Bike.org reports that city leaders in Detroit have an “aggressive” plan to add bike infrastructure. Missouri Bicycle Federation introduces the concept of sustainable street certification, like LEED for streets. And Flat Iron Bike discusses how standard liability in car wrecks is inappropriate in an age of car sharing.