"The squeaky wheel gets the grease."
Sometimes, it seems like this old adage has it all wrong. It seems, more often than not, the squeaky wheel gets replaced with a quiet one bought with money from people who don't want anything to change.
The recent surprise announcement by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation--that it will drop its decades-long push to build a new highway through the marsh--does give hope that constant, relentless, uncompromising noisy advocacy can make a difference.
But, there are mountains upon mountains of projects that, without scrutiny and comment, will continue down the path of inequity, wasteful spending, unhealthy priorities, and environmental degradation. And, often, you must comment decades before a project reveals its idiocy or inadequacy, because the process is so compartmentalized and circuitous, that something decided in 1998 cannot be undone or fixed in 2023 when it is unveiled for a final review.
I wanted to remind everyone that Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is collecting comments on their draft 2050 plan.The website is here:The last day to submit comments is January 24th, so there is not much time. I am sharing my comments here in case anyone wants talking points. There is a lot more that could be said, and your comments would be helpful. The more voices they hear, the better. If it's not obvious from my comments, I think the plan is more of the same that we've gotten from them for years. It's time for them to do better.--------------------My comments:
As a citizen of Wisconsin, I welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on the Connect 2050 plan.
Goal 4 states that “The department will continue to prioritize reducing congestion”. A few things: it was *not* a priority from looking at most of the comments from Wisconsites all over the state. The most common priority was “alternatives to driving”, with 700 comments mentioning it, more than any other comment type (https://connect2050.wisconsindot.gov/outreach). It’s embarrassing that WisDOT states its priority is to reduce congestion yet ignores the cheapest option: reducing vehicle miles traveled. When people have alternatives to driving alone, congestion decreases. Yet in your own documents, you show VMT continuing to go up! At least Minnesota DOT has made decreasing VMT a priority. Wisconsin should look to their plans, as our states are similar and have similar challenges.
Also on the interactive website, when selecting Goal 4, then Mobility, you tout “what we are doing now” by presenting a bicycle plan from 1998. REALLY? A 23 year old plan is what you are doing now? You should be ashamed of yourselves. It would have been better not to show it at all because it shows how little you are doing for people outside of motor vehicles.
For Objective 8b: Prioritize emissions reduction and alternative fuels to improve air quality.
Again, WisDOT ignores the most straightforward way to do this: reduce VMT. With fewer miles traveled, emissions go down, and air quality improves. Even electric vehicles won’t save us as they have tires that turn into micro particles that pollute our water (https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1131916_report-microplastic-pollution-from-vehicle-tires-is-a-serious-global-issue).
WisDOT states “Balance transportation needs with those of the natural environment, socioeconomic, historic and cultural resources.” Yet the federal guideline states: “Protect and *enhance* the environment, promote energy conservation, improve the quality of life, and promote consistency between transportation improvements and state and local planned growth and economic development patterns.”
WisDOT’s statement is NOT actually what the federal guideline calls for. What does “balance” mean here? If vehicular delay is reduced by 1 minute is that a “good balance” with the environment? It is so vague as to be meaningless, and allows for vehicular delay to be seen as equivalent with our need for a livable planet.
Federal guideline: 8. Emphasize the preservation of the existing transportation system.
Pursue continuous improvement and expand data-driven decision-making processes.
Maximize technology benefits.
This is NOT the same! WisDOT should be focused on repairing existing systems rather than expanding them. We do not have infinite money, and we need to keep our existing system in good repair. Even WisDOT states that it’s important to pay attention to funding sources (goal 1).
Your section on safety is disappointing. You use the talk of Vision Zero “zero traffic deaths” and “5 Es” yet you don’t seem to properly understand them, nor how they work in a hierarchy. The standard 5 Es are: Evaluation, Engineering, Enforcement, Education, and Encouragement. Some have swapped out Enforcement for Equity because it has been well established that the current system of traffic enforcement in our country can result in discriminatory outcomes. Still, I have NEVER seen anyone state that EMS or “Everyone” is part of the 5 Es. It is a complete abdication of your responsibility as a state transportation department to say that “everyone” is responsible. You continue to design roads that encourage speeding. You prevent ENGINEERING changes to East Washington in Madison that would provide more safety on a road where multiple people are killed each year. Yet “everyone” is responsible? That is some next level gaslighting, or maybe you truly are that oblivious to transportation research on appropriate traffic engineering measures that have measurable impact in reducing road violence.
Your idea of safety is laughable. You state that you want to decrease traffic deaths, yet your own GOALS for 2021 were *higher* than 2020! Your scorecard (https://wisconsindot.gov/Documents/about-wisdot/performance/mapss/scorecard.pdf) stated that the goal for traffic crashes was 127,892. In the same line it states that 2020 was 114,697. I realize that this 2050 plan does not have individual metrics, which will be found in other plans, but you can see why I am skeptical of your “goals” and “objectives”. Your goals clearly state that you will do worse than before, then if you come in under your absurdly high goal, you will get a green arrow showing what a good job you’ve done. This is unconscionable.
Finally, the second most common comment was around funding. As I’ve mentioned previously, decreasing VMT is the fastest, cheapest way to ensure that our roads are able to last longer and stay in good condition. The next area that needs to be explored and proposed by WisDOT to the legislature is increasing fees based on vehicle weight. Any engineer will tell you that more weight causes more road damage. It is simple physics. As people switch to (heavy) EVs that do not pay gas tax, they need to pay for their use of the road. As drivers choose heavier vehicles such as oversive SUVs, they need to pay for the damage they do to roads. France is doing this and it is one of the only ways to make it fair for all road users. People who do more damage to the road need to pay for funding the improvements. It is as simple as that. This needs to be considered in all your discussions around fiscal responsibility (ie Goal 1).