Don’t be Homer Simpson; get the facts on state transportation issues

America was founded on a distrust of government — especially faraway, arbitrary government. Over the years, there have been ebbs and flows in our collective view of government — through a civil war, world wars, a great depression, the New Deal, and the Great Recession. Two hundred and thirty-eight years in and we are at a point where confidence in government is more at an ebb than a flow.

A poll conducted by the AP at the beginning of the year found that 70% of Americans lack confidence in the government’s ability “to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014.”

With recent examples like the response to Hurricane Katrina and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, it is hard to blame us.

As has generally been the case over all of these years, we tend to be a bit more trusting of government that is closer to us. In the same AP poll, 45% of Americans were at least moderately confident in their state government and 54% expressed that same level of confidence in their local government.

While Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike have different reasons to be upset with elected officials and government agencies, it is not productive to just go into shutdown mode. We have to make an effort to discern between what we deem to be ineffective or costly programs and initiatives versus ones that actually have merit and are well managed. If not, we might as well become anarchists.

James Madison put it this way: “A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.” Of course, the flip side of that is articulated so well by Homer Simpson: “Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”

For the purposes of this blog, I will assume most of us prefer Madison’s view to Homer Simpson’s. Under that assumption, I would ask that you take the time to look at how Wisconsin is currently prioritizing, managing, and funding its transportation system. Fortunately, WisDOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb is providing us the opportunity to do just that.

He is going around the state hosting town hall meetings that consist of three parts. The first is to explain what comprises our current transportation network, summarize its relative condition, and explain the efforts that are underway in each region to maintain or improve our state and local roads, bridges, bus systems, airports, harbors, and railways. The second is to describe how the department is holding itself accountable to the taxpaying public. And the third is to discuss the funding challenges that we face.

The effort is called Transportation Moves Wisconsin. So far, Gottlieb has held town hall meetings in La Crosse, Madison, Superior, Eau Claire, and Wausau. Meetings are also scheduled for May 7 in Green Bay, May 8 in Oshkosh, May 20 in West Allis, and May 21 in Kenosha. You can go to WisDOT’s website to get all the details.

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While on the site, you can watch a brief video that explains a great deal about the history of transportation in Wisconsin and find links to actual budget charts and documents, a timeline of transportation in Wisconsin, and even Wisconsin transportation trivia.

You can also provide comments if you are unable to attend one of these meetings. All comments are archived on the website.

We all have opinions. Some believe a local project should happen more quickly. Others may feel we are spending too much money on one area and not enough on another.

All of these opinions are important to share. The only thing I would ask is that you take some time to attend one of these meetings if you can or at least read and digest the information that is available on the WisDOT website before etching those opinions in stone.

There are some issues out there that require common-sense answers. Not everything has to be a proxy for the greater ideological debate of our time. Providing a platform to move goods and people more efficiently than our competitors across the country and across the globe should be one of those issues. 

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