WISPIRG Foundation
Press Release

Community and Elected Leaders Oppose WISDOT’s ‘Billion Dollar Boondoggle’ At Hearing on I-94 East-West Corridor

WISDOT’s Preferred Options Are Poorly Outlined, Costly, Wasteful, and Require Higher Taxes, Fees

By - Dec 4th, 2014 02:26 pm
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation may build a double-decker freeway in Milwaukee.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation may build a double-decker freeway in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee – State Senator Tim Carpenter, and State Representatives Daniel Riemer and Mandela Barnes joined Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman and a broad coalition of community leaders from southeastern Wisconsin yesterday evening to call on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WISDOT) to go back to the drawing board and reject both highway expansion options presented today by WISDOT at the first of two public hearings on the future of I-94’s East-West Corridor.

“The proposed options presented by WISDOT Secretary Gottlieb and Gov. Walker’s administration are wasteful, unnecessary and irresponsible,” said Juan Carlos Ruiz from the Cleaner Milwaukee Coalition.  “What’s worse, they want to raise taxes and fees to pay for this boondoggle project.  WISDOT should go back to the drawing board and give the community options that will enhance mobility in Milwaukee, not waste taxpayer money on an unnecessary expansion.”

WISDOT has put forward only two options for the Corridor; both call for highway expansion and are based on questionable predictions of increasing traffic volumes along the stretch of highway – predictions not borne out by WISDOT’s own traffic data.  In fact, WISDOT’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) around which today’s hearings were held, disregards data showing that traffic volumes in the Corridor are declining and call into question the need for expanding the interstate. A 2014 1000 Friends of Wisconsin report found that traffic counts on this stretch of highway decreased 8 percent from 2000-2012.

“This billion dollar boondoggle is another costly highway expansion that will divert hundreds of millions of dollars away from the repair of our crumbling roads and bridges and the local repair needs that are currently underfunded,” said Steve Hiniker, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.  “Wisconsin taxpayers should not be footing the bill for highways that aren’t needed.  We want and need better transportation options in our communities.”

Examining expansion alone is particularly shortsighted given Wisconsin’s changing demographics – an aging population that will outlive its ability to drive, as well as Millennials’ shrinking reliance on cars for travel – and the local need for non-driving alternatives to reach jobs and commerce in the region.  The DEIS fails to review options that would simply repair the road without expansion, and altogether refuses to consider better transit service despite growing demand for non-driving options.

Dr. Mark Stout, former Assistant Commissioner for Planning and Development at the New Jersey DOT, developed an alternative to WISDOT’s proposal that aims to enable 21st century mobility in Milwaukee through the repair of I-94 and the creation of a rapid transit system along the Corridor. In his report, released on December 2, 2014, Stout doesn’t only fault WISDOT for neglecting transit in its DEIS; according to the veteran transportation planner, the Department also failed to adequately study pavement conditions and crash data before concluding that an expansion of I-94 was necessary.

“The DEIS does a poor job of identifying and describing the safety problems that WISDOT apparently feels should be addressed. The mere fact of higher crash rates does not automatically identify problems or solutions,” notes Stout. Ultimately, Stout rejects the need for expansion and embraces a repair-and-transit option. In its DEIS, WISDOT concedes that most of the infrastructure, safety, and operational issues they identify on the highway can be successfully addressed through spot repairs or other simple modernizations.

“Proposing to spend $1 billion taxpayer dollars on a project that is out of touch with how people are increasingly getting around is bad enough, but not adequately addressing the need for this massive investment is unacceptable.  Any reasonable taxpayer should reject both options put forward by WISDOT,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG Director.

To finance these proposals, WISDOT Secretary Gottlieb has recommended raising taxes, including the gas tax, a diesel tax, a fee on hybrid owners and a fee on the purchase of new vehicles.  He also wants to borrow more than $800 million in the next two-year budget.

“Governor Walker and WISDOT Secretary Gottlieb are proposing to build more boondoggles, and the DOT is asking us to pay for it with more taxes and fees,” concluded Speight.  “Rather than squander billions of tax dollars on overbuilding highways, WISDOT should be offering a vision for transportation that will help strengthen communities, connect people to jobs, and better accommodate changing local needs.  They aren’t doing it, so we have to do it for them.”

The Coalition for More Responsible Transportation was formed to challenge the overbuilding of highways in Wisconsin while our local roads and transit systems suffer.  Members of the coalition include: the Cleaner Milwaukee Coalition, Story Hill Neighborhood Association, Hunger Task Force, WISPIRG, Sierra Club Great Waters Group and John Muir Chapter, MICAH, the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Voices, and WISPIRG.  www.facebook.com/CMRTWI. 

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7 thoughts on “Community and Elected Leaders Oppose WISDOT’s ‘Billion Dollar Boondoggle’ At Hearing on I-94 East-West Corridor”

  1. David Ciepluch says:

    We squander millions on new highway expansion in this state without a real reason and overall strategy for doing so. While at the same time many urban roads across Wisconsin are in a state of decay, costing local drivers millions in annual damages to their cars for tire and suspension replacements and repairs.

    I have recently driven on Highway 26, a new 4-lane under construction, north of Johnson Creek. There has been scant traffic on this brand new expensive highway. There are other highway projects around the state just like this. Road expansion projects like this one are an extreme example of the waste of taxpayer road funding.

  2. Andy says:

    I generally agree that too much is spent on the highways in our state and we greatly over build new highways. However, I-43 and I-94 are an exception. The traffic levels in these two corridors are already beyond the designed capacity. Even with the recent small decrease in traffic, I-94 runs at a very poor service level. Once you consider that most of the decrease in traffic levels coincide with Marquette and Zoo interchange construction projects along with the recession and gas price spikes, I think it’s safe to assume that a rise of 11-16% over the next 26 years (a fraction of a percent growth per year) is hardly out of line.

  3. Rich says:

    @Andy, good to remind people of this point in these discussions. I-94 design options are all to often tied exclusively to the future rise in traffic volumes.

    It might be more wise for the opposition to work to ensure that this is last time I-94 is expanded. If the perception that Millenials are driving less becomes the reality over the span of the next generation or two and the denser neighborhoods required to actually make that happen continue to develop in this region, then it would make sense to look into transit operations.

    Transit at the present time would be cost-prohibitive because of a lack of density and connections. Sure, intercity- or commuter-style rail transportation from Delafield and Waukesha and Brookfield sounds nice in theory, but what about the people who live five miles from the originating station and work one to two miles from a “downtown” terminating station.

    All of the I-94 opposers had better be supporting the Milwaukee streetcar or trying to restart KRM or things like that if they really believe in changing things…

  4. PMD says:

    What’s the point of expanding I-94 when adding lanes does not reduce traffic? People are driving less, that’s expected to continue in the future, and adding new lanes does not improve traffic, so this seems like a huge waste of money. Maintaining it is one thing, but adding lanes is wasting money.

  5. Peter H Coffin says:

    Rich: Transit *creates* density around its routes and stations. All those commuter suburbs on rail lines in larger metropolitan areas didn’t get rail stations because they were bustling suburbs, they got to grow because the public wanted to be near the points of transit. For example, Waukesha didn’t even become a city until a decade after it got a Chicago and Northwestern rail station, and within two years after that, there was a TMERL line there )peaking later at about 30 trains a day each way) and the city could grow.

  6. Spencer Hoyt says:

    If spending the money allocated for either the light rail system or this stretch of interstate (double deck proposal) is inevitable, let’s connect all of the major tourist attractions located along I-94 & down the central spine of our metro area with a monorail first!

    Connecting the Zoo, State Fair Park, Miller Park, Potawatomi Casino, Harley Davidson Museum / Train Station, the Historic Third Ward, and finally the Summerfest grounds is a fantastic concept that is far more plausible as a starter connector for our transportation & tourism needs.

    Adding neighborhood & business district connectors to the North / South & West makes better sense with a rail system located here vs the proposed downtown location.

    Aligning the millions of annual tourists these year round destinations draw would spur economic development we all seek eminently better than current proposals.

    Further, I believe any light rail system use in Milwaukee will massively struggle because of our climate. I am confident a monorail elevated above street-level would better meet our needs if a rail system is inevitable.

  7. Lyle Lanley says:

    Lyle Lanley:
    The name’s Lanley, Lyle Lanley. And I come before you good people tonight with an idea. Probably the greatest—Aw, it’s not for you. It’s more a Shelbyville idea.
    Mayor Quimby:
    Now, wait just a minute. We’re twice as smart as the people of Shelbyville. Just tell us your idea and we’ll vote for it.
    Lyle Lanley:
    All right. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll show you my idea. I give you the Springfield Monorail!
    (everyone gasps)
    I’ve sold monorails to Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook, and, by gum, it put them on the map!
    Well, sir, there’s nothin’ on earth like a genuine bona-fide electrified six-car monorail! What’d I say?
    Ned Flanders:
    Lyle Lanley:
    What’s it called?
    Patty and Selma:
    Lyle Lanley:
    That’s right!
    Monorail…monorail…monorail… (continue over the following lyrics)
    Miss Hoover:
    I hear those things are awfully loud.
    Lyle Lanley:
    It glides as softly as a cloud.
    Is there a chance the track could bend?
    Lyle Lanley:
    Not on your life, my Hindu friend.
    Barney Gumble:
    What about us brain-dead slobs?
    Lyle Lanley:
    You’ll be given cushy jobs.
    Grampa Simpson:
    Were you sent here by the devil?
    Lyle Lanley:
    No, good sir, I’m on the level.
    Chief Wiggum:
    The ring came off my pudding can.
    Lyle Lanley;
    Take my pen knife, my good man.
    I swear, it’s Springfield’s only choice!
    Throw up your hands and raise your voice!
    Lyle Lanley:
    What’s it called?
    Once again!
    But Main Street’s still all cracked and broken.
    Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!

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