The Contrarian

MacIver Transportation Report Is Junk

Alleged study asserts but never begins to prove $2 billion in waste.

By - Aug 1st, 2017 10:15 am
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St. Croix Crossing Rendering.

St. Croix Crossing Rendering.

Alleged mismanagement by Governor Walker’s Department of Transportation has become a staple for those who argue that existing transportation revenue is adequate — unless of course new revenue comes from borrowing hundreds of millions in new debt.

The latest foray comes from a MacIver Institute “analysis” released last week that “found nearly $2 billion in wasteful Wisconsin [transportation] projects and practices.”

As a matter of routine, an organization aspiring to status as a credible “think tank” would accompany such an “analysis” with a description of its authors, the methods they used, and their various sources of information. After all, finding $2 billion in “wasteful projects and practices” would entail systematic research. Those carrying out the research would have experience in or knowledge of the field that they examined. In this instance, that might include expertise in public finance, transportation planning, or capital projects.

MacIver conspicuously omits any information on the three authors’ credentials. As for methodology, it offers this: “The MacIver Institute has dug into the numbers, taken a deeper dive into WisDOT projects that are at the very least questionable, if not an outright waste of taxpayer money, and administrative failures that have added substantial and unnecessary costs.”

A Bublr Bike.

A Bublr Bike.

The report itself is mainly a hodgepodge of projects of which the authors disapprove. Consider this illustration of the work’s “analysis”:

Bublr Stations in West Allis, Shorewood and Wauwatosa – $2 million. TOTAL $400,000 LOCAL SHARE

Given the supposed shortfall in the transportation fund for road projects, is it a good idea to spend this transportation money on a bike project?

There you have it. A trenchant 25-word examination of the pros and cons of bike-sharing stations in three Milwaukee County suburbs.

Continuing the reports’ “deep dive” into bike projects, one finds this:

Ice Age Junction Path – $2.5 million TOTAL $500,000 LOCAL SHARE

Two miles of bike path are set to be completed in the city of Madison in 2018-19, costing $2.5 million. This project includes up to nine bridges and underpasses, which seems excessive considering the amount of bike routes already existing in the city.

Got that? A forty-four word exploration of a project with the decisive conclusion that it “seems excessive.”

Link to this study and you can see for yourself a laundry list of hyper-condensed project critiques masking as “analysis.” If you are skeptical of roundabouts you won’t be disappointed. These authors echo MacIver’s ongoing campaign against what it regards as a transportation scourge.

What about more glaring examples of waste? Bike paths and roundabouts are chump change when one is talking billions.

There’s this (emphasis added):

St. Croix Crossing – $650 million TOTAL $285 million STATE PORTION

Minnesota and Wisconsin collaborated to build a new bridge crossing the St. Croix river between Houlton and Stillwater, Minn. A new bridge seems necessary but over-engineering puts the project into question.

The new bridge is a state-of-the-art [design]… only the second of its kind built in the nation, despite low traffic counts and an existing bridge 15 minutes south. Also, the old bridge was not torn down, but remodeled and designed to be a bike/pedestrian crossing with rest areas and viewing platforms…

So, the new bridge, built after years of planning, analysis, and legislative approvals, “seems necessary…despite low traffic counts.” Not exactly a cogent analysis. What mainly bothers the MacIver team is the structure’s design and its objection to a bike crossing on an older bridge. From this MacIver counts the ENTIRE COST of the bridge as “waste.”

MacIver chalks up another $191 million in “waste” to a Legislative Audit Bureau report earlier this year. Over a six-year period, when the state highway program totaled $12 billion, the audit bureau identified areas where WisDOT failed to meet is own performance goals. Potential savings equaled less than two per cent of program spending. More importantly, the potential savings arose from WisDOT’s own effort to set goals, measure outcomes, and identify shortcomings. To the MacIver team this is “waste.”

In the category of high humor — and more big bucks — MacIver criticizes the $143 million cost of a highway project near LaCrosse. That amount — $143 million — is part of the $2 billion in waste. But the project has never been approved and has not been built. It’s an idea, and one that likely will never occur. Including it in the MacIver “analysis” would be like adding in the cost of the never-built high-speed rail line that some in WisDOT surely favored.

A credible think tank would have noted the following finding from the much more thorough Legislative Audit Bureau report:

DOT generally had effective oversight of the processes for soliciting bids and awarding construction contracts and took steps to control construction costs, but it could take additional steps.

Further, a credible think tank would have explored the December 2016 transportation department report that identified $1.5 billion in one-time and ongoing savings from improved management and design of highway projects.

MacIver’s website says the following about the gentleman whose name it has appropriated:

John K. MacIver pursued the notion that ideas are the most powerful force in politics. Though he never held a government post, few Wisconsinites have had a greater impact on the public affairs of this state and the nation…In John’s honor, The MacIver Institute will produce a new generation of ideas to make Wisconsin great again.

Those who were fortunate to know John MacIver can only wince at what is being done in his name. On reading the laughably flawed report of WisDOT waste he would have harrumphed and pitched it in the trash.

8 thoughts on “The Contrarian: MacIver Transportation Report Is Junk”

  1. Michael Schwister says:

    From the Bradley Foundations desk to MacIvers press release with another years operating funds.

  2. Old Man Yells at Cloud says:

    I knew it! Those darn commie bicyclists are the reason the transportation budget is FUBAR. They should pay for their own paths because I’m sure they don’t pay taxes!*

    *sarcasm

  3. Bruce Thompson says:

    A good take down of MacIver’s pitiful excuse for analysis. A thoughtful analysis of DOT spending would be a public service.
    I note that they really, really don’t like bikes. Doing anything to make biking safer and most enjoyable automatically makes the project a boondoggle.

  4. George Mitchell says:

    Governor Walker has taken note of the biggest instance of “waste” cited by MacIver.

    Media Advisory: Governor Walker to Participate in St. Croix Crossing Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

    Governor Scott Walker will join in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the St. Croix Crossing tomorrowmorning in Minnesota.

  5. Bruce Thompson says:

    But the bridge is a boondoggle because: “Also, the old bridge was not torn down, but remodeled and designed to be a bike/pedestrian crossing with rest areas and viewing platforms. The old bridge is now part of a 4.5 mile bike-loop which also connects around the new bridge.” Sounds like a good idea to me.

    I note also that about 30% of the projects the MacIver folks refer to are bike trails, but 1% of the $2 billion cost.

  6. Dumbledore says:

    This report shows just how much Wisconsin politics has become incredibly provincial and tribal. It’s not even a question of ideology. Any transportation project that isn’t my way of getting around or isn’t in my district is a boondoggle. Of course, everything in my district or that benefits my personal trips is a desperately needed and completely justified investment.

    Two key examples outside of this report:
    1. Robin Vos is in favor of using bonding / borrowing for the I-94 project in Racine County when it’s in the Foxconn package, but he’s adamantly opposed to borrowing for anything else in the transportation program.
    2. The DOT’s own Secretary Ross has spoken out against projects in SE Wisconsin but had no answer when legislators at a hearing several months ago pointed out that his own city of Superior had benefited greatly from years of expansion to US 53 when the SE projects were not yet funded.

    Transportation benefits everyone in the state and projects are needed everywhere. The truck that carries manufactured items from Superior to Amazon at Kenosha needs US 53, I-90 near the Dells, the Zoo Interchange and I-94 south. Why can’t this group of leaders figure that out?

  7. cartoon characters of late capitalism says:

    That MacIver report is trash, but they have a sped up video of wacky conservative radio personalities using a bike roundabout with Yakety Sax playing in the background. That’s worth like at least five rational arguments!

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