In Wisconsin: Driving Stagnates, Highway Spending Accelerates

Wisconsin's highway spending has become completely divorced from actual road usage. image: 1000 Friends of Wisconsin via WISDOT

Young people are driving less. Baby boomers are driving less. Americans in general are driving less.

The news hasn’t sunk in, however, at certain state DOTs — Wisconsin being a prime example. Under Governor Scott Walker — who insisted the state was too “broke” to operate passenger rail — highway spending has been skyrocketing.

Today, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin makes the point that the state’s spending priorities seem to be far out of whack with what the people of Wisconsin are demanding:

The state of Wisconsin plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next two years adding additional capacity to the state’s highway system. These highway expansions are fundamentally out of step with the wants and needs of today’s Americans and ignore demographic information that shows there is a fundamental shift in driving habits.

Young people in America are travelling differently. Over the last ten years, they are driving less, are less likely to own a car or possess a driver’s license and are more likely to bike, walk and take public transit. Surveys show that these shifts in the way Americans want to travel are likely to persist, with many young people making a conscious decision to avoid driving to protect the environment and to save money.

Wisconsin’s senior population (65 and above) is also booming. Our seniors’ mobility needs will not be met through the expansion of roadways; instead they will require much improved access to transit and pedestrian facilities to maintain a good quality of life.

These costly highway expansions will likely be paid for through increased taxes. Why should citizens who neither want, nor need these costly investments be saddled with the bills? Instead of pouring millions of dollars into highways, we recommend that the state take into account these significant demographic changes and invest in transportation systems which are truly multimodal and environmentally as well as financially sustainable.

1000 Friends is asking the state to reduce highway spending by 10 percent and increase transit spending by 30 percent, among other changes to the proposed transportation budget.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Political Environment highlights a thought-provoking article detailing the many economic benefits of high-speed rail. Urban Indy laments how often Indianapolis’s sidewalks double as parking lots. And Baltimore Velo reports that a mandatory helmet bill has been defeated in Maryland.