Sunday, November 29, 2009

Money For Nothing

Workers need to sacrifice, unions must make concessions, programs and services must be cut...belts need to be tightened.

Unless it applies to the highway lobby, then we've got $22 million (which will likely end up much more) available for temporary fixes. Subsidizing the sprawl of business and people with large highway interchanges at the edge of cities, enabling the auto-dependent life to continue, must stop.

How about a tax or a toll, so that those who use these concrete eyesores have to pay for them? If you must build on the edges, out in the middle of greenfields, miles and miles from other developments, a fee, a tax, whatever you care to call it, should be applied. There is no free lunch (or so they say).

Yet, suburbanites, through massive highway building, cheap gas, and weak environmental standards, have had their entire lifestyle highly subsidized. It should not be cheaper to build on open space than it is to reuse an existing, blighted inner city building. Our planning principles should be encouraging reuse. If a developer concludes he/she must build on open space, the cost should reflect this environmentally unwise choice.

It's many of the same suburban conservatives whom feel they shouldn't have to pay anything in taxes that primarily benefit from such highway building. Taxes actually do pay for a lot of things, which we obviously take for granted. Now because of years of disinvestment due to a "starve the beast" mentality (organized by anti-tax zealots: think Reagan) we're finding ourselves in need of repair and advancement of infrastructure we built during WWII.

Many important regional/national businesses are located near the interchange. They are important to the future of the region. But to persist in building highways to deal with our transportation needs does nothing to improve the situation. In fact, it encourages continued sprawl and auto-dependency.

If the Zoo interchange must be done, do a complete project now. And, tie it into other modes of transportation in the region, connecting it to businesses and neighborhoods. During a time when many people, businesses, and neighborhoods are hurting, this would be a dose of much-needed deficit-spending to ensure improved job numbers now, and a healthier overall outlook for the future.

Why Wisconsin doesn't have a holistic plan for a regional transportation system in place - efficiently and sustainably connecting metropolitan Milwaukee's airport, rail, buses and highways with Madison, Kenosha, Racine, Green Bay, etc. - is inexcusable. What have we been doing since it was announced federal money was available for transportation infrastructure? $51.2 billion was made available for transit in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

If we have financing available for the Moderne, the Bookends, Miller Park, and a host of other ancillary development, we should have funding available for a 21st century transportation infrastructure.

Unemployment has been climbing. Infrastructure projects create jobs, and they make locations more marketable and sought after for businesses and homeowners. We need some leaders and visionaries to step forward in the planning and infrastructure realm. The lack of imagination, the inability to make bold decisions, the unwillingness to invest in light rail, and the tunnel vision of continuing to follow the same unsustainable development patterns will lead to the irrelevance of Milwaukee and the region.

For Further Reading:
Center for Neighborhood Technology
Economic Development and Smart Growth
Making The Connection
Mixed-Income Housing Near Transit
Transit Oriented America

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