Tag Archives: highway projects

Audit: Department of Transportation vastly underestimated costs

Major highway projects in Wisconsin over the past decade have cost twice as much as the Department of Transportation  initially estimated, thanks in large part to not accounting for inflation, according to a highly critical audit released on Jan. 26.

The much-anticipated Legislative Audit Bureau report comes as the agency faces a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall and Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature are sparring over how to solve it.

The audit found that 19 major highway projects completed in the past decade cost a total of $1.5 billion — twice as much as the $772 million original price tag. It also said the cost of 16 ongoing major highway projects more than doubled to a total of $5.8 billion — increasing by a staggering $3.1 billion — from the time they were approved through August 2016.

Wisconsin’s roads have consistently deteriorated over the past five years and are in “considerably” worse shape than roads in six other Midwestern states, the report said. The proportion of state highways in good condition decreased from 53.5 percent in 2010 to 41.0 percent in 2015, the audit said.

Walker, who canceled a series of public events scheduled for Jan. 26 due to illness, has insisted that he won’t raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fees to plug the transportation budget shortfall to pay for ongoing road projects. His plan is to borrow about half a billion dollars and delay about that much in ongoing major highway work.

Assembly Republicans are calling for $300 million in transportation-related tax and fee increases along with unspecified tax cuts elsewhere.

Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson said the report doesn’t change the governor’s position.

“The bottom line is, we shouldn’t even be thinking about raising the gas tax or fees until we find every last cost savings at DOT, and the audit shows we can find more savings,” Evenson said. “We welcome the opportunity to deliver services taxpayers expect at a price they can afford.”

Democrats seized on the audit, saying it shows that Walker and Republicans — who have controlled state government since 2011 — have failed on roads, created a crisis, and put drivers’ safety at risk.

“The Republican leadership’s neglect of our roads is as inexcusable as it is unacceptable,” said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. “Our crumbling infrastructure is costing taxpayers and hurting our economy.”

While many Republicans said the report was helpful in showing where Audit: Department of Transportation vastly underestimates costs can save money, Audit Committee co-chair Sen. Rob Cowles was more critical.

“(The audit) will be devastating to the management of the DOT,” Cowles told WHBY on Jan 26. “They have to do this whole thing differently.”

He plans to hold a public hearing on the report within the next two weeks.

The audit said the Department of Transportation hasn’t consistently used performance measures to improve its operations and can do more to control costs. It also doesn’t sufficiently take into account how inflation and unexpected cost overruns affect the price tag of projects, the audit said.

Cowles said the underestimated costs made the projects more attractive to lawmakers, thus increasing the chance of the Legislature approving them. He stopped short of saying department officials were intentionally low-balling bids to get approval.

The audit bureau recommended that the WISDOT use its money more effectively and improve how it manages highway planning, engineering, construction and maintenance.

Agency Secretary Dave Ross, the former mayor of Superior who has been on the job less than a month, said the audit “provides a road map to improved efficiency and transparency at the DOT.” Ross said he’ll work to implement recommendations for improvement. Ross replaced Mark Gottlieb, who resigned as secretary three weeks ago.

Walker, GOP leaders differ on plugging $1B shortfall for fixing Wisconsin roads

With Wisconsin roads rated among the nation’s worst, raising funds to shore up the state’s crumbling infrastructure will be one of the biggest issues facing the Legislature next year.

It’s an issue that pits Gov. Scott Walker against his own party. He and the  state’s Republican leaders have created a nearly $1 billion gap in Wisconsin’s transportation budget, but now Walker refuses to support raising taxes or fees to plug that hole. As he prepares for a likely third gubernatorial run, Walker probably doesn’t want to be seen as going back on his pledge never to raise taxes or fees.

But Joint Finance Committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren says increasing funding for Wisconsin roads has to be an option. To help make his case, Nygren scheduled an unusual mid-summer conference call with reporters to release a memo by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau showing that just to pay for road projects that have already been approved, the state will need to come up with $939 million more.

Nygren urged Walker, lawmakers and the public to be open to all options — including raising the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

“We need to have a dialogue about how we’re going to fund our transportation needs,” said Nygren, who is from Marinette. “All options need to be on the table.”

Walker responded by reiterating his position in a statement saying, “Raising taxes and fees is not the answer.”

“Under our administration, we will keep it a priority to live within the means of the hardworking people of Wisconsin,” Walker said. “That is a commitment I will honor.”

Walker, however, has slashed state revenues by giving massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Wisconsinites and many millions of dollars in tax incentives to corporate cronies who failed to produce promised jobs. He’s also spent millions of dollars on politically motivated lawsuits to fight against LGBT and immigration rights. At the same time, he’s funded federal lawsuits for partisan gerrymandering, as well as for restrictions on abortions and voting rights. All of those issues were already winding their way through the court system in cases filed by tea party leaders of other right-wing states.

Walker delays upkeep on Wisconsin roads

Walker directed his Department of Transportation secretary to deliver a budget that identifies cost savings and prioritizes needs, but that doesn’t raise taxes or fees. Doing that will delay road expansion work and upkeep on all but the state’s most-traveled highways.

The department’s budget is due on Sept. 15, and it will serve as the starting point for the governor and Legislature as they work on the state’s two-year spending plan to be passed in mid-2017.

In the last budget passed in 2015, Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion, but the Legislature scaled that back to $850 million. They rejected recommendations from a bipartisan transportation commission in 2013 that called for increasing the gas tax by 5 cents per gallon, raising other transportation fees and using a mileage-based vehicle registration system.

Republicans have neglected Wisconsin road funding and they’re only talking about it now because an election is looming, said Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.

“On this issue, the Republican leadership’s word means nothing,” Barca said in a statement.

Nygren said borrowing more money and delaying projects is “not necessarily the fiscally conservative position.” But, he added, not addressing the problem will force future generations to pay for higher levels of borrowing without a substantial benefit.

Still, he took no position on how much additional borrowing he would agree to endorse.

Nygren said his preference would be to raise the gas tax because everyone who drives in Wisconsin, not just those who register vehicles in the state, would be affected. The state’s 30.9 cents per gallon gas tax is has not been raised since 2006.

Reporting for this analysis was provided by The Associated Press.

GOP would increase sales taxes to fix potholes while borrowing $1.3 billion for unneeded highway projects

Do the potholes in your neighborhood look like they belong in Syria?

No surprise. The conditions of Wisconsin’s roads rank third worst in the nation, according to a recent study commissioned by the Local Government of Wisconsin Institute.

The low ratings mark a dramatic decline for the state, which ranked 22nd in the country just 11 years ago. Fewer than half of Wisconsin’s roads rated as “good” or better, the report found.

According to the study’s researchers, the poor condition of our roads affects almost every industry and motorist in the state.

But now Republican lawmakers might give locals a new mechanism to maintain their roads — with a new tax. State Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Halzehurst, and state Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, have proposed giving voters the ability to increase their local sales tax by one-half cent to pay for road upkeep. That means people in localities that adopt the sales tax would then be paying four separate tax streams for road and highway upkeep.

Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which advocates for responsible land use, says the plan is highway robbery.

Most Wisconsinites believe the fees they’re charged for license plates, coupled with the gas taxes they pay when filling up their tanks, go toward keeping their roads in order. Those fees and taxes are collected into the state Transportation Fund. The original plan was to have the fund reimburse up to 80 percent of the costs of local road repairs to the communities where they were raised.

But times change. Today only about 20 percent of the money is returned to the localities where it’s paid. Instead, most of the money in the Transportation Fund pays for state highway projects, which, of course, do nothing to patch up the potholes that throw your car out of alignment.

Nor do they do much to relieve traffic, since many of the massive new highway projects are located on highway corridors where traffic use is declining. That’s because projects are based on obsolete WisDOT traffic projections.

Automobile use has dramatically declined as the state’s population is graying, car ownership among young people is falling and gas prices are volatile. Between 1981 and 1991, the number of miles driven in Wisconsin grew by a rate of 35 percent. In contrast, the growth rate from 2003 to 2013 was zero.

Researchers hired by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin compared the WisDOT traffic projections used for planning 11 upcoming major highway projects with today’s actual vehicle use of those highway stretches. They found that traffic counts on all of the projects are unlikely to come close to WisDOT’s outdated projections.

For example, the area of expansion on I–94 between Milwaukee and Kenosha is experiencing an annual traffic-rate reduction of 0.88 percent, far lower than the 0.75 percent increase projected by WisDOT. At the same time, the expansion work has caused horrendous traffic delays and accidents.

“WisDOT is projecting a 23-percent increase in traffic on I–94 near (Miller Park) by 2040,” said Hiniker. “However, actual traffic counts show that traffic has actually decreased by 8 percent along that stretch of highway. Present trends show that the WisDOT projections will never be achieved.” 

Despite these facts, Gov. Scott Walker wants to issue $1.3 billion in bonds to cover the projects already planned. The plan would leave the state that much more in debt, even as it faces a current budget deficit. The $1.3 billion is in addition to the money that’s already available in the Transportation Fund.

GOP lawmakers have balked at Walker’s highway borrowing plan, with most seeking to reduce its size at the least. Several have instead proposed to increase licensing fees and gas taxes, including Walker’s transportation secretary Mark Gottlieb last November.

But Walker has rejected that strategy, saying that fees are virtually taxes and he will not raise taxes.

Still, legislative Republicans are not on board, with even Walker’s most ardent supporters saying the state needs to find a sustainable solution for maintaining its transportation infrastructure. GOP state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who has overwhelmingly supported Walker’s policies in the past, complained that the bonding plan amounts to kicking the can down the road, a charge that Democratic supervisors on the Milwaukee County Board frequently leveled at Walker. The former Milwaukee County executive, Walker left the county with more obligations in debt repayment than money to spend on services, according to current County Executive Chris Abele.

Politics appear to prevent Walker from either endorsing the new taxes or cutting back on highway spending. Conventional wisdom is if Walker approved a tax increase, it would kill his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination. At the same time, road builders are among the most generous and dependable campaign contributors, and Walker could have his sights set on their financial support for his presidential aspirations.

So he’d rather borrow and, according to his critics, leave someone else in charge when the bill comes due.

But back to those potholes. In the past, property taxes filled in the growing funding gap between Transportation Fund disbursement to local governments and the cost of local road maintenance. But Walker froze property taxes in his first two budgets, leaving local lawmakers with no way to raise the money.

Now, faced with the choice of halting expensive highway projects, raising road-related fees or property taxes, the Legislature has floated the proposal of allowing local citizens to vote themselves a one-half cent sales tax increase. Ostensibly, Walker could then claim that he didn’t raise taxes — the people raised their own.

“It’s a hold-up,” Hiniker says. “The people are already paying taxes to maintain local roads, but their money is being used to build highways in other parts of the state. It’s unreal.”

Study: State taxpayers on the hook for $1 billion in useless highway projects due to faulty data

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will waste up to $1 billion on unneeded highway expansions if it continues to rely on inaccurate, outdated highway-use projections, concluded a comprehensive traffic study by a nonpartisan watchdog group. 

WisDOT’s traffic projections are one of the most salient factors considered in approving construction projects and obtaining matching federal dollars. But they are calculated years in advance, and the state is currently experiencing zero growth in the number of vehicle miles driven, according to the group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which monitors land use in the state. 

The group’s study found that much of the data WisDOT used as the basis for more than $3 billion worth of projects contained in the state’s current biennial budget was collected a decade ago.

The group’s researchers compared traffic projections on which 11 upcoming major highway projects are based with today’s vehicle use of those highways. They found that recent traffic counts on all of the projects are unlikely to come close to the projections offered by WisDOT.

In fact, vehicle use on highways earmarked for multimillion-dollar expansion projects has actually fallen in some cases, according to the study.

“For example, WisDOT is projecting a 23-percent increase in traffic on I–94 near (Miller’s Park) by 2040,” Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends, said in a prepared statement. “However, actual traffic counts show that traffic has actually decreased by 8 percent along that stretch of highway. Present trends show that the DOT projections will never be achieved.” 

The situation is much the same on the I–43 corridor between Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties and I-94 in Milwaukee County, where expansion work has already caused horrendous traffic delays. WisDOT projected annual traffic growth of 1.4 percent on I-43 and 0.75 percent on I-94. But the two corridors have experienced declining traffic use — a reduction of 1.5 percent annually on I-43 and 0.88 percent annually on I-94.

Those declines in highway use reflect a statewide pattern of declining vehicle miles driven. Following the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the 1960s, traffic skyrocketed. But in recent years, vehicle miles driven have flattened out.

Between 1981 and 1991, miles driven in Wisconsin grew by a rate of 35 percent. In contrast, the growth rate from 2003 to 2013 was zero.

Hiniker said his group is not calling for a moratorium in highway construction, but rather a method of planning that’s based on current usage and updated projections. In some cases, he said, the state is planning projects based on data that projects volumes that are 100 times greater than actual traffic usage.

“Once a project is approved based on traffic projections, (WisDOT) never revisits (the numbers),” Hiniker said. “(WisDOT) says, ‘It was authorized, we have to build it.’ We’re saying, ‘If you know trends have changed, go back and reevaluate it.’ We’re asking WisDOT to change the way they plan projects. We want to make sure they’re not wasting money.”

Relative to the previous trends, Wisconsin has experienced a 27 percent decline in miles driven over the past decade, according to 1000 Friends. If the growth rate of previous decades had continued, Wisconsinites would currently drive an average of 11,300 miles annually instead of the current average of 9,400.

The difference between previous growth rates in highway usages and actual highway use over the past decade is stark: If previous rates of increase had continued, Wisconsinites would have driven 16 billion more miles than they did in 2013. That’s because the average Wisconsinite drives 500 fewer miles per year today than in 2004.

Diverted funds

Critics such as 1000 Friends and conservationists say lawmakers must stop wasting money on unneeded highway expansions at a time when the state faces a budget deficit, an inadequate workforce due to massive cuts in education (the most of any state in the nation) and underfunded police and fire departments.

Perhaps most troubling to Wisconsin’s cities, WisDOT diverts money that would otherwise go to maintaining heavily trafficked city roads to build and expand underutilized highways.

While conservative Wisconsin voters are furious over paying taxes that support government spending on food stamps, they’re unaware of the taxpayer money that’s wasted on needless highway spending — most of which goes to politically connected roadbuilders who contribute large sums to both Republican and Democratic officeholders. 

In the fiscal year 2011, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provided about $1.1 billion in food benefits to a monthly average of 801,073 people in Wisconsin. That’s only slightly more than the amount of money Wisconsin will waste on unneeded highway projects over the next two years if WisDOT continues to use inaccurate highway use projections.

Drivers assume that various automobile fees and taxes they pay at the pump cover the cost of local road repairs. But by the time that money winds its way through the labyrinthine process of transportation funding, there’s very little left to fix the neighborhood pothole that threw your car out of alignment in April.

Last year, TRIP, a nonprofit organization that researches surface transportation issues, released a report estimating that “unacceptably rough” roads cost a total of $80 billion nationwide, with the average urban driver faced with $377 a year in repairs.

The only way Milwaukee and other Wisconsin cities can obtain increased funding for road repairs is by raising property taxes. But politics and the state’s lagging economy make that option a non-starter. Instead, cities must choose between filling in van-eating sinkholes and maintaining adequate police and fire departments, according to city halls across the state.

During the 1980s, local municipalities asked the Legislature for permission to raise their own money to pay for road resurfacing and other such infrastructure repairs, according to Hiniker. But lawmakers at the time said no, instead promising to reimburse cities and towns for 85 percent of such costs through the state’s segregated Transportation Fund. 

That percentage of reimbursement has steadily declined over the past decade. Now it’s only about 12 percent, Hiniker estimated. It’s hard to tease out the actual figure, because WisDOT categorizes work involved in many new construction projects as repairs, even if the “repairs” are made to roads in good condition.

For instance, the expansion of I-94 from Milwaukee to Kenosha cost $2.2 billion, but only $200 million of that traffic nightmare of a project was classified as new construction. All the rest of the cost fell into the category of repair and maintenance, because it was used for such work as widening existing overpasses in order to widen the road.

Slighting cities

WisDOT uses a shared-revenue formula that’s almost impenetrably complicated and gives sprawling rural areas a funding advantage over heavily trafficked urban locations, according to Hiniker. Dennis Yaccarino, a budget analyst for the City of Milwaukee, told WiG last spring that the formula slights Wisconsin cities, particularly Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay.

Transit analysts believe huge political contributions made by road builders play a central role in maintaining a planning process that favors large, expensive highway projects over small ones. But it’s nearly impossible to figure out how much the state’s two dozen or so road builders, each of whom is said to have an unofficial “turf,” give to lawmakers in each election cycle. That’s partly due to rules that allow for unlimited anonymous donations to third-party campaign activity and partly due to the time-honored practice of bundling donations or making them under the names of friends or family members.

Hiniker hopes that shedding light on WisDOT’s faulty, politically motivated method of planning highway projects will bring about change. This is more important now than ever, he said, due to dwindling revenue and rapidly changing demographics. Many young people favor mass transit, he said, while seniors lose their ability to drive safely.

Wisconsin is one of the nation’s grayest states, and it’s projected to become much grayer.

“There are new projection numbers that show the population increase in 2040 is going to be about 800,000 people in Wisconsin — and almost 95 percent of them will be over 65,” Hiniker said. “The working-age population is not projected to change at all. So where are all the drivers who are projected to be driving?”

Pay-to-play limits public transit funding

When it comes to getting where she has to go, Jamecca Cohee, 30, relies on the Milwaukee County Public Transit System for “everything, every day – Monday through Sunday,” she says.

The inner-city mother of three uses the bus for getting to work, shopping and taking her kids to school. Public transportation also takes her family to medical appointments, to visit relatives and to church.

In recent years, Cohee and other public transit riders have contended with continual rate increases, ever-longer wait times between buses and decreasing passenger safety. Every two years when biennial state budget talks draw near, they face threats of yet higher rates and further service reductions.

On Dec. 3, Cohee participated in a “community listening session” on Milwaukee’s public transit crisis, held at the Washington Park Senior Center. The event’s purpose was “to provide a place for people who rely on public transportation to be able to demonstrate why they rely on it,” says Jennifer Epps-Addison, economic justice director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. Her group is one of many that have joined forces to get the Assembly to create a funding mechanism for safe, reliable and affordable public transportation for people who can’t drive – a group composed mostly of the poor, elderly and disabled.

The event was titled “Still Fighting for a Seat on the Bus,” a reference to Rosa Parks’ history-changing refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in Alabama on Dec. 1, 1955. Advocates say public transit users are still victims of racism, because they are largely people of color whose transportation needs are wholly overlooked by lawmakers. At the same time, leaders of both parties in Madison lavish public funding on highway construction, much of which is demonstrably unnecessary.

The ACLU of Wisconsin, one of the event’s sponsors, also is part of a lawsuit filed in August to force the state to reconsider spending $1.7 billion on the reconstruction of Milwaukee’s so-called “Zoo Interchange” while slashing budgets for mass transit and road maintenance, such as filling in potholes.

“When our government makes decisions that disproportionately impact a certain group of people, particularly by race, we have to go through the courts to shine light on that,” says Stacy Harbaugh, communication director for the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Our tax dollars are for all of us to use, but Milwaukee is taking money away from the people who need it the most.”

The ACLU and Midwest Environmental Advocates contend that WisDot overlooked federal laws mandating that the allocation of federal transportation dollars must take into account a proposed project’s impact on the environment as well as on communities of color – neither of which WisDot did in its Zoo Interchange planning, Epps-Addison says. (Typically, 75 to 90 percent of interstate road funding comes from the federal government.)

The Zoo Interchange improvements will benefit commuters to the lily-white – and blood red – suburb of Waukesha. Although that fast-growing area is home to many new jobs, it is almost impenetrable for people who don’t drive – and the majority of people who live there aim to keep it that way, according to public transit advocates. It’s not by chance that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, a quasi-governmental organization, is headquartered and holds its public meetings in Waukesha.

The suit was filed on behalf of MICAH and the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin.

But the Zoo Interchange case is only one of many highway projects that suck money away from public transportation funding. Only about 6.5 percent of the state’s annual transportation dollars were allocated for public transit under the 2011-13 biennial budget, and Republicans want to push that number even lower, according to Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. He estimated that only $212 million of the $3.3 billion allocated for transportation in the state this year went to public transit.

Many drivers believe that public transportation should have to pay for itself, arguing that their gas taxes pay for the roads they use. But that’s just a myth perpetrated by Big Oil and highway builders. In 2009, a national commission estimated that fuel taxes and other user fees accounted for less than 60 percent of transportation system revenue.

The majority of funding for public transit, as well as highway and airport costs, comes from property and other taxes from the general fund that people are forced to pay into whether they drive, fly or take the bus. 

Politics drives roads

Although Wisconsin highways appear to be among the least congested in the nation, fast travel times have failed to slake state lawmakers’ thirst for road building. In fact, even though highway traffic leveled off in 2004 – and is projected to remain near constant through 2023 – proposals for new roads and highway improvements continue to multiply. The reason is that massive amounts of public money are at stake, and highway builders pay lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle handsomely for the chance to stuff some of that money in their pockets. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s family and countless other politically connected families have become millionaires giving legislators money in exchange for lucrative road-building projects, whether those projects are needed or not.

“The people who build the highways have taken complete control of the state highway budget,” Hiniker says. “They’re essentially the highest paid state employees.”

Hiniker describes the state’s highway builders as a perpetual bipartisan lobbying machine. “In Wisconsin, the road builders have the strongest lock of any state that I’ve seen,” he says.

He says the scenario works like this: Road builders get rich off projects paid for by taxpayers. The builders then use their taxpayer-generated wealth to lobby and contribute to elected officials, who in turn reward them with more projects.

“The taxpayers are subsidizing the political contributions that road builders give to candidates who promise them more money to build more roads,” Hiniker summarizes.

Wisconsin ranks 13th in the nation on highway spending per capita – or 24 percent above the national average, according to the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group. The actual need for building a particular highway project in Wisconsin is only a secondary consideration. The more pressing concern for lawmakers is the projected payout, according to public transit advocates.

As a result, Wisconsin is laced with “highways to nowhere.” For instance, there’s the $25 million interchange project in a cornfield 30 miles west of Milwaukee to provide easier access to a failed development called “Pabst Farms.” The development was never built due to the real estate crash, but that didn’t stop Gov. Scott Walker from pushing funding forward shortly after turning down $800 million in federal dollars for a high-speed rail project.

There’s a proposed $140 million project to widen Highway 23 in a rural area between Plymouth and Fond du Lac that would shorten drive times by no more than four minutes for the relatively small number of users, according to traffic studies. That project is currently on hold due to a lawsuit.

Despite the waste such projects represent, they are inevitably backed by local newspapers and positioned by local leaders as job creators. In reality, the lion’s share of jobs created by such projects goes to out-of-state planners, vendors and workers, analysts say.

Transit advocacy

Until recently, public transit riders had few champions and, in a political system in which money commands attention, almost no influence. Milwaukee residents like Cohee simply can’t compete with the rich special interests that drive the planning process.

Milwaukee has no regional transit authority to raise money and conduct local public transportation planning.

But the groups that organized the Dec. 3 listening session have joined with other grassroots progressive groups to change the power dynamic. They already flexed their muscle dramatically in the 2012 general election. Cohee was part of a program called “Ride and Register,” in which she and other transit users registered voters on the bus. They also asked their fellow riders to volunteer to fight for public transit funding and to get people to the polls.

Epps-Addison says the project yielded 700 rides to the polls on Election Day and created a base of supporters to lobby lawmakers on public transit funding. The project was a partnership between Citizens Action and the Transit Riders Union.

Gary Goyke, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Urban and Rural Transit Association, says that public transit advocates are “in a better position” this year than last, when it took some last-minute creative funding by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele to save Milwaukee from 30-percent cuts in mass transit. As a result, in 2013 there will be no fare increases or route cuts in Milwaukee County.

“We are determined,” Goyke says. “We are not going to give up.”

Good for business

Goyke says Walker has created a transportation commission that understands the benefits of public transit for the business sector and “is acknowledging that it erred in the past and is not going to take public transit out of the transportation fund” – as Walker sought to do in the last budget. Goyke says he’s encouraged by the selection of Mark Gottlieb, a Milwaukeean, as secretary of the Department of Transportation.

In their efforts, public transportation advocates hope to benefit from the passion of new and recently elected representatives from Milwaukee, including Goyke’s son Evan Goyke. Chris Larson, the new Senate minority leader, and others introduced a bill last January called the Workforce Mobility Act.

“Of the 140,000 rides provided daily by the Milwaukee County Transit Systems, 39 percent are commuters traveling to and from work – and for many this is their only feasible transit option,” Larson said. “The demand for viable transportation options is clearly there and we owe it to our workers and local businesses to provide the necessary support to our public transit infrastructure.”

While unpopular with the current leaders in Madison, public transit is widely recognized as the wave of the future across the country – and around the globe. Nationally, transit trips have far outpaced the growth of auto miles since 1995, according to the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group.

Public transit is simply more sensible, its advocates say. According to their statistics, it saves 3.4 billion gallons of oil each year in the United States, prevents 541 million hours of traffic delay and reduces global warming pollution by 26 million tons.

“Ultimately, it’s the demographics that will change things,” says WisPRIG executive director Bruce Speight. “The demand for transit is exploding. If you build an infrastructure that is unfriendly to young people and old people, they will leave. Right now (Republican leaders) are building an infrastructure for the white middle class in the suburbs – for a disappearing status quo.

“The state of Wisconsin went for Obama and Baldwin. More votes were cast for Democrats than Republicans in state races … despite unprecedented voter suppression. The Republicans are holding on now through gerrymandering, but unless they get real with their policies, they’re not going to be able to hold on to their seats even in a gerrymandered state.”