Roads keep lawmakers in cash

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With the billions spent on road building in Wisconsin, why are our local roads in such poor condition? Part of the answer is that money allocated for repairs is actually being spent on unnecessary new construction projects.

Why? New construction projects are relatively expensive and provide roadbuilders with higher profits. Roadbuilders then donate a portion of those profits to the lawmakers of both parties who authorize them.

This legal form of what amounts to graft comes at a time when fewer miles are being driven in the state and projected highway usage is on the decline, according to solid studies by WISPRIG Foundation. Aging baby boomers and millennials are driving less. Yet new highway construction money keeps flowing while the public transportation needs of city dwellers go unfunded. 

In effect, the tax dollars you’re paying for road repairs are winding up in the pockets of lawmakers who vote not to repair roads but rather to build new ones that you don’t want.

Under Gov. Scott Walker’s current budget, the state will borrow $1 billion for roadwork. That’s odd for a governor who says he’s against big public projects.

Walker’s move comes at a time when the state has nearly a billion-dollar surplus that he could use to plug the $1.7 billion budget deficit he’s created, according to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles he vowed during his campaign that he would use in office. A recently released study of the states’ cash solvency (which refers to the state’s ability to pay bills in the near term) found that Wisconsin ranks 43rd.

Still, Walker’s $1 billion proposal means there’sw plenty of money to repair the crumbling bridges and potholes that are destroying your vehicle, but lawmakers don’t want to sacrifice your money for those measly projects when they get more payback from building new roads and bridges and expanding old ones that don’t require expansion.

Mark Wolfgram, retired division of transportation investment administrator at Wisconsin Department of Transportation, explained that road builders need to keep using their large equipment — and that equipment can only be used for new roads, not repairs. In other words, the state is providing an assured annuity of funding from taxpayers to maintain highway builders through the ups and downs of the economic cycle.

One of the more egregious cases of wasting taxpayer dollars to appease the road builders’ lobby is the proposed expansion of Highway 23 in Sheboygan County into a four-lane expressway connecting Sheboygan and Fond du Lac. This $128-million project was slipped into the budget by local legislators despite no demonstrable need for it based on traffic volume or safety considerations. In fact, the highway’s traffic volume falls short of the DOT’s own projections, and its crash rates are on par with other similar highways.

Highway 57 from Port Washington to Plymouth and Highway 151 from Dodgeville to Dickeyville are among the other numerous examples of unjustified highway construction.

Meanwhile, local governments can’t afford their road repairs. Witness the potholes in the City of Milwaukee as you drive to the expensive, newly reconstructed airport interchange.

Road builders are lavished with generous funding while funding for education, the environment, crime and poverty programs are twisting in the wind. Walker’s recent proposal to increase road-building funds comes at the expense of critical government programs that serve taxpayers instead of politicians.

For more information about this ongoing abuse of taxpayer money, go to Highway Waste Wisconsin at www.facebook.com/highwaywastewisconsin.