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Jun 9, 201405:00 PMTransportation Matters

with Debby Jackson

Functioning roadways and transit systems both vital to a growing economy

(page 1 of 2)

It is difficult to say who do you the most mischief: enemies with the worst intentions or friends with the best.” — E.R. Bulwer-Lytton

Let me just state this from the beginning. I believe Wisconsin needs to do much better when it comes to our policy toward mass transit, and that includes funding.

Unfortunately, groups like 1000 Friends of Wisconsin agree with me. Heavy sigh.

Life is difficult enough without people making inane arguments attempting to further a cause you agree with. This group’s most recent doozy was choosing to criticize, in a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, regional planners’ and the state DOT’s plan to fix North Shore I-43.

A few facts: The 14-mile stretch of road was designed and built in the 1950s. It is crumbling and needs to be rebuilt (and presumably redesigned). It carries about 85,000 vehicles a day. It is a parking lot at drive time. This is a fact, because I have to drive it about twice a week and … well … I know it. It is dangerous, as overly congested stretches of roadway tend to be. There were 1,087 crashes between 2006 and 2010, including four fatal crashes.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) is estimating that traffic along this stretch will increase approximately 1% per year between now and 2020 and then 0.6% per year between 2020 and 2040. This is much slower than the annual increase in vehicle miles traveled during previous decades due to, among other things, “slower population and household growth,” according to SEWRPC Executive Director Ken Yunker.

This is where 1000 Friends is calling foul. You see, they say that the population is growing even more slowly than SEWRPC says it is, and SEWRPC “needs to account for factors like the tendency for younger people to use alternative transportation.” Um, well … huh?

I don’t want to waste space or minutes of your life debating whether the traffic on this 14-mile stretch of road in Milwaukee will grow 0.4543% or 0.612% between 2020 and 2040. Suffice it to say that I will bet on the people who went to school for this and were hired to do it for a career — i.e., the engineers and planners at SEWRPC. Not to mention that these projections are lower than the federal government’s estimates for average growth in vehicle miles traveled over the same period.

The point is that, for the purpose of this specific project, it doesn’t matter. The corridor is packed to the gills today. What am I missing here? Nobody is arguing that it has exceeded its design life and needs to be rebuilt. Are we supposed to conclude that in order to be visionaries and build for a future Wisconsin where young people no longer drive, we should spend hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild a roadway — which is designed to last for 70 years — that will be congested and dangerous the first day it is reopened?


Jun 14, 2014 10:05 am
 Posted by  Matt Logan

The thing is, large percentages of the population do not want to pay more for highways. The top preference among Republicans is to DELAY projects in order to balance the transportation budget.
[see fig 22, pg 16]

Why is that? I believe it is because Republicans believe in personal responsibility and limited government. The largest factor that influences safety is not highway capacity, but (you guessed it) driver behavior. That largest factor that influences congestion levels is not highway capacity but (you guessed it) driver behavior.

And on the topic of trusting highway engineers at SEWRPC: Have you seen the graph of actual versus projected VMT over the last 10 years at the national level? DOTs all across the country are projecting historic levels of VMT growth, even though VMT is basically flat since 2008.

When I tried to drill down into the data from WISDOT I can't get a simple comparison of measured versus projected traffic. All I can get is an assurance that their computer models were tested against a federal model. But wait, if everyone is tested against the federal model, and the federal numbers are obviously out of whack, then there really is no assurance.

And then there is the real killer here: TDA projects a 20-year return for every dollar invested above basic maintenance of about $3. But guess what that dollar would turn into in the stock market? $6.70 in 20 years at 10%. In other words, investing that dollar in highways will remove $3.70 from the economy over that 20 years. And this negative net return on investment has been coming for a long time:
[see fig 14, pg 25]

But why would a group that makes money when the state spends more on highways be interested in that fact?

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About This Blog

 Debby Jackson assumed the role of executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin after more than 15 years with the organization. In addition to her vast experience in association management and transportation advocacy, Jackson has a background in business. She leverages the breadth and depth of her professional experience, along with her knowledge of the membership and mission of TDA, to be a strong voice for robust transportation infrastructure in Wisconsin. Jackson started her career as a staff auditor with Price Waterhouse, which led to a series of accounting and corporate management positions with a major national retailer.

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