Friday, January 18, 2008

Time For Action: Say No to I-94 Expansion and Yes to Transit

Have we not learned anything from the days of Robert Moses? As he pushed new freeways through New York City he displaced families, businesses, divided communities and increased congestion. What we should of learned by now is that as you build and expand freeways you encourage more people to drive, you encourage people to live further apart, you separate comm unites and yes drive up taxes. Beyond the fact, that freeway expansion will not reduce commute times there are bigger issues around why spending $1.9 billion on this project is wasteful, unjust, and unnecessary.

Understand that roads do not pay for themselves and are not definitely not "freeways". Fuel taxes and registration fees give taxpayers the belief that roads are paid for by these taxes and these taxes only. Where in truth these don't cover the cost of roads nearly at all. It is easy to see this when bridges around the country are in disrepair but await fixing. It is easy to see this when some roads in Milwaukee are over a 100 years old. It is easy to see this when taxpayers get assessed thousand of additionally dollars to repave the street they live on. It is seen clearly when annually $1.3 billion of property tax state wide is spent to pay for roads. The truthful result of freeway expansion is to encourage a rise in property taxes by reducing the tax base, and expanding government liabilities.

Let us not forget that there are population groups who are not not helped by freeway expansion. For example there are the inner city poor who have no or limited access to a car. A recent report by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development points out that "36.6% percent of Milwaukee-area families with incomes below the poverty level have no access to a vehicle." Further even for those who can "afford" the $4,357 annual cost of car ownership this amount of money represents a large portion of their income and reduces there ability to save for the future, buy a home, or raise themselves out of poverty. Another population group seemingly forgotten by the Wisconsin DOT are the elderly. As the Baby Boomer generation ages we will face a larger percentage of people over 65 many of whom will be unable to drive. This freeway expansion only helps to lock them in their homes and excludes them from society. Instead of using $200 million of this plan to expand the freeway we could use it for those who don't have a car or who can no longer drive.

To rebuild and modernize this stretch of I-94 without expansion it is estimated to cost $1.7 billion and if I-94 is in disrepair and in need of safety improvements then rebuilding it is a wise and prudent endeavor. Expansion seems unnecessary though, as a 2007 Texas Transportation Institute report points out that Milwaukee ranks 52nd in metropolitan freeway congestion which ranks Milwaukee similar to Tulsa not Chicago. So without expansion that $200 million in savings could be used to explore many options of improved transit services that could serve to improve mobility for people left out of the automobile biased economy. Potentially the KRM, light-rail, or bus rapid transit systems could be explored and funded with this $200 million opening opportunity to everyone. Clearly as we move into the future many more Americans will need access to mass transit options and if Wisconsin wants to succeed this is an area we must improve dramatically, or otherwise be left behind.

We need to build a city, and a region of the future.

Again it is time for action

Please email the DOT and tell them to Say No to I-94 Expansion and Yes to Transit

Frank Busalacchi, WisDOT Secretary