MADISON, WI (WSAU) - A recent report recommending tax and fee increases to pay for highway projects is drawing criticism from a Madison based research group. The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, known as WISPERN, compared the proposal to other states' plans and said much of the nearly $480 million dollar increase in taxes and fees is going to the wrong place.
Bruce Speight is with the WISPERG Foundation, and they question the need to raise gas taxes, license fees, or consider paying for driving by the mile at this time. He says the state’s highway spending priorities are flawed. “Wisconsin, as we found in this report compared to other states, plans to spend a high percentage... about 30% of our state’s planned transportation money on new roads and highway expansion projects, even though we’ve got this modest projected population growth and our volume of driving is actually decreasing.”
Speight says their study shows the state’s highway expansion plans are extravagant, and out of touch with our states slow population growth and transportation trends, and Wisconsin is considering spending 30% of its transportation dollars on projects that research data can’t justify. “Our transportation priorities are completely out of whack, and we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars on highway expansion that might be completely unnecessary and wasteful spending that could be better directed towards making sure our bridges aren’t collapsing and that our potholes are getting fixed, and in communities where we need good transit systems, that we’re providing that.”
WISPERG’s spokesman says the Department of Transportation needs to show a demonstrated need for a project, no matter what it is. Speight says they support maintaining roads and bridges, and supporting more local transportation aid.
The WISPERG study reviewed the top four enumerated projects in the last budget, and deemed them all as wasteful and unnecessary. They are the Interstate 90 widening from Madison to the Illinois border, the Highway 15 widening project in Outagamie County, the Highway 38 project between Milwaukee and Racine, and the Tri-County Freeway in Winnebago and Calumet counties.
Speight says their group looked at the case for expansion, examined environmental impact statements, and also 10 year old crash data and documents used to justify the projects. Their study showed the top four expensive highway projects are not necessary. “We actually reviewed the four new major highway projects enumerated in that budget, and what we found was that they were unjustified, unnecessary projects, and over the life of those projects, they could cost taxpayers as much as 2 billion dollars.”
Speight says Wisconsin may need to raise more transportation revenue, but the state should first get their priorities straight and get a better estimate of how much taxpayer money is actually needed to do the important road work.