A $125 million “road to nowhere.” Another $100+ million for a bypass around a town of 2,711. Welcome to the era of “fiscal austerity” in Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.
A new report from the Public Interest Research Group examines $1.2 billion in proposed highway projects green-lighted by the Walker administration while the state rolls back funding for transit, education and local communities.
The findings indicate that in all his zeal for cutting public spending, Walker has a blind spot for highways. Despite a $3.6 billion budget deficit, Walker’s Wisconsin is forging ahead with a fortified highway budget. The Walker administration has proposed a 13 percent increase in highway construction. Meanwhile, $10 million in transit cuts have been proposed, in addition to a reduction in $48 million for maintaining local roads.
Wisconsin is hardly crying out for new road capacity. The state already ranks 13th in the nation on transportation spending per capita, or 24 percent above the national average, the report notes. So it’s not clear why highways have garnered such a privileged position in the state budget, said report co-author Bruce Speight.
“This is spending gone wild on questionable projects at a time when we should be prioritizing maintaining our existing infrastructure and transit,” he said.
Of the four projects analyzed by WISPIRG, the group found all of them to be justified by outdated data and generally of questionable merit.
Wisconsin is planning to widen 45 miles of I-90 south of Madison to the Illinois border from four lanes to six. The project is slated to cost $715 million, but local press reports have put it at as a high as $1.5 billion. PIRG reports that the project was justified using traffic data from 2002. Furthermore, crash data indicate safety problems could be remedied with less expensive interventions at interchanges.