Con la transportacion americana en crisis, porque estamos gastando el dinero de nuestros impuestos en nuevas y masivas carreteras?. Investigacion de la adiccion de una ciudad a las mega_autopistas
MILWAUKEE—The Marquette Interchange is an engineering marvel, a steel and concrete symphony of girders and flyovers at the edge of downtown Milwaukee, harmonizing traffic from three intersecting interstates with 29 bridges and 200,000 tons of asphalt. It looks like a wheat-and-blue roller coaster sculpted by a surrealist, one of those loop-de-loop highway hells where tourists are always getting lost in New Yorker cartoons. It’s basically a 21st-century vehicle distribution system the size of a city neighborhood, financed by $800 million from state and federal taxpayers.
When the Marquette was completed in 2008, it was by far the largest and most complex road project in Wisconsin’s history. Its plan was 4,400 pages long. The work required 46 construction cranes. A manager quipped in a PowerPoint presentation that the project would “create its own weather.”
Seven years later, though, the Marquette is no longer an outlier. The state is already building or planning three larger freeway projects in the Milwaukee area alone; the expansion and reconstruction of the nearby Zoo Interchange will cost more than twice as much as the Marquette. It’s all part of a $7 billion effort to widen and modernize the interstates around the city, an effort so massive it has its own line item in the state budget, “Southeast Wisconsin Freeway Megaprojects.”
“There’s a lot of work to do,” says Patrick Goss, director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, the most powerful lobby for the state’s highway-industrial complex. “We just have to figure out how to pay for it all.”
That is the big dilemma right now in Washington, where the legislation that sluices more than $50 billion a year in federal funds to state transportation departments is about to expire. Congressional leaders want to extend it, perhaps for as long as six years, but with gas-tax revenues drooping, they’re struggling to find a way to finance it. And a similar how-to-pay-for-it-all dispute was gridlocking Wisconsin’s government when I visited earlier this month. Republican Gov. Scott Walker wanted to pay for his road-building program by borrowing money, so he could run for president without breaking his no-new-taxes pledge, but the pricetag got so big that leaders from his own party rejected his plan as fiscally irresponsible, leaving the state budget in limbo.
As the transportation bill takes center stage on Capitol Hill this week, we’re hearing plenty of impassioned speeches about the woeful state of American infrastructure, about the failure of our political system to invest in the future of our nation. But taxpayer-funded megaprojects like the Marquette and the Zoo are obvious reminders that America still does invest mightily in transportation infrastructure. It’s less obvious what all that investment is achieving, and for whom it’s being achieved. For all the debate over how much money to spend on transportation and how to raise the money, there’s been much less debate about how the money should be spent. When so much cash and concrete gets poured into the spaghetti bowl of freeways around Milwaukee, other needs tend to get neglected.
Today, we spend more than five times as many federal dollars on roads as we spend on public transit. We spend more building new road capacity than we spend fixing existing roads. Those priorities affect the competitiveness of our economy, the sustainability of our environment, the livability of our cities, and the mobility of the poor, not to mention the amount of time we spend banging our fists on our steering wheels in traffic and the likelihood that our bridges will collapse. But most of our transportation choices aren’t made in Washington. Congress is mostly a pass-through, funneling cash to states with relatively few strings attached.
I got a firsthand look at the consequences in Wisconsin, where snazzy megaprojects crowd out basic repairs, and politicians lavish attention on big highways at the expense of local roads and public transit. The anti-sprawl group Smart Growth American found that from 2009 to 2011, Wisconsin spent only 39 percent of its highway dollars on maintenance, versus 61 percent on new highway capacity that added to its maintenance backlog. As the state has shifted resources into freeway megaprojects, 71 percent of its roads are in mediocre or poor condition, according to federal data. Fourteen percent of its bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, which is actually better than the national average. Walker and his fellow Republicans have killed plans for light rail, commuter rail, high-speed rail, and dedicated bus lanes on major highways, so there is almost no public transportation connecting Milwaukee to its suburbs, intensifying divisions in one of the nation’s most racially, economically and politically segregated metropolitan areas. Yet Walker, who is running for president as a staunch fiscal conservative, has pushed a $250 million-per-mile plan to widen Interstate 94 between the Marquette and the Zoo despite fierce local opposition.
In some ways, Wisconsin represents an extreme example of the priorities that have traditionally dominated U.S. transportation policy, In some states, regional transit agencies are underfunded; in Wisconsin, thanks to Walker and the legislature, they’re illegal. Walker also killed a “Complete Streets” program that pushed road builders to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians. The drive to promote driving has gotten so relentless that the courts have begun to apply the brakes. In a ruling with national implications, a federal judge recently blocked a $143 million expansion of a state highway between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan, citing absurdly inflated traffic estimates that Wisconsin transportation officials had used to justify it. Another potentially precedent-setting lawsuit alleged the Zoo project would serve suburban commuters at the expense of inner-city minorities; the Walker administration had to fund three new bus routes to settle it.
“It’s an all-out war on urbanism,” says John Norquist, who spent 16 years fighting freeways as Milwaukee’s mayor and then a decade running the Congress for the New Urbanism. “Cities are seen as obstacles to getting cars and trucks to move faster. Transit is seen as the ultimate expression of Marxism. And you know, road builders give a lot of money to politicians.”
In Wisconsin, the budget standoff ultimately forced politicians to make some tough choices about their addiction to asphalt, with some surprising results. In Washington, the status quo prevails.
“The system is obviously broken, but you don’t hear much talk about fixing it,” said Rob Puentes, a transportation expert at the Brookings Institution. “It’s kind of crazy. They’re just trying to find money to do more of the same.”
THE ORIGINAL MARQUETTE interchange was finished in 1968. It was gray and clunky. Before its reconstruction, it had netting under its bridges to catch falling chunks of concrete. It had left-lane ramps that made merges harrowing. It carried about 285,000 vehicles per day, and it could get congested at rush hour.
Thanks to the megaproject, finished on time and on budget under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, those problems are gone. The new interchange has 2 million square feet of new bridge decks, widened and painted to mimic Marquette University colors. The federal government, which covered more than half the cost, gave the Marquette an award for “Excellence in Highway Design,” noting that it “stands as one of Milwaukee’s iconic structures.” The ramps are now all on the right, and accidents have dropped 48 percent. To the extent there are still backups on I-94, they seem to have moved to stretches that haven’t been refurbished yet.
Now the Walker administration is trying to do the same thing near the city’s zoo, except supersized. The Zoo is Wisconsin’s oldest and busiest interchange, carrying more than half the state’s freight, and one of the toughest to navigate. State transportation officials calculated that simply rebuilding it would cost about $900 million, but they settled on a $1.7 billion alternative that will add lanes, soften curves and widen shoulders. They believe the work will reduce accidents dramatically, while easing congestion that currently adds about five to seven minutes to the average rush-hour commute.
“The Zoo can’t handle what it’s being asked to handle now, and it’s only going to get worse,” says Goss, who was a transportation aide to former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson before he began lobbying for the state’s road builders. “Sure, it’s a high-cost project, but you can’t take shortcuts with this kind of thing.”
The case against the Zoo improvement is that it’s an extremely high-cost project. It will churn through more than two years worth of state funding for all other highway repairs, and more than 15 years worth of state funding for public transit. It includes an estimated $255 million just to buy real estate and relocate utilities. Goss pointed out three overpasses that were built five years ago when their predecessors began to crack; the Zoo project will have to replace them again. And again, the feds will pick up more than half the tab.
To critics, the reimagined interchange seems oddly lavish, as if money were no object when it comes to saving a few minutes of drive time for commuters from the so-called WOW counties west of Milwaukee—Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington, some of America’s whitest and most Republican suburbs. Daniel Riemer, a young Democratic state representative from Milwaukee, contrasted the $250 million that Walker’s budget slashed from the University of Wisconsin—where Riemer graduated from law school in 2013—with its jacked-up funding for megaprojects like the Zoo.
“Everywhere else, it’s tighten our belt, tighten our belt,” said Riemer, whose father David was a longtime aide to Mayor Norquist, and later lost a race to Walker for county executive. “If there’s a backlog for an English class at UW, they’ll say: Suck it up. They won’t rush and hire a new teacher. But if there’s a seven-minute delay on the freeway, whoa, they’ve got to build a bigger freeway, spare no expense.”
For decades, state transportation officials have warned that Milwaukee-area congestion could reach Chicago-level standstills, but it hasn’t happened. In my three days here, I encountered something resembling a traffic jam only once, when I had to slow down to 20 miles per hour for a lane closure on I-94 at morning rush hour. Some locals call it “rush minute.” The Milwaukee metropolitan area is ranked 39th nationally in population, but according to one 2012 study, it has only the 63rd-worst commute. All traffic is frustrating, but another study found that commuters around Chicago spend nearly two more hours in their cars per week than commuters around Milwaukee. One local publication headlined the study “Why Milwaukeeans Should Stop Complaining About Their Commutes.”
This gap between perception and reality is important, because the Wisconsin Department of Transportation routinely justifies highway expansions with scary projections of traffic nightmares that never materialize. The Fond du Lac-Sheboygan project that the judge smacked down is typical; WISDOT had forecast a 54 percent jump in traffic on the road by 2040, even though traffic has decreased 5 percent since 2000. In reports titled “Road Overkill” and “Fork in the Road,” the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group has documented how usage of completed highway projects around the state has fallen far short of initial forecasts, and how WISDOT is continuing to predict dramatic increases in congestion even though the overall mileage driven in Wisconsin (and the nation) has been flat over the last decade. And there are reasons—the aging of baby boomers, the aversion of millennials to driving, the potential for driverless cars to fit more traffic safely onto the same amount of pavement—to question whether even highway expansions that seem necessary now will seem necessary in a few decades.
The most contentious project on WISDOT’s current list is the planned I-94 upgrade between the Marquette and the Zoo, at an estimated cost of $850 million for just 3.5 miles of freeway. This may be Wisconsin’s worst bottleneck, serving the Miller Park baseball stadium and Harley Davidson headquarters, but its traffic still declined 8 percent from 2000 to 2012. That did not stop WISDOT from projecting a 23 percent upswing by 2040 to justify the upgrade, which will cost more than twice as much as a basic repair job. Riemer and Evan Goyke—another young Democratic state representative from Milwaukee, and the son of the state’s top transit lobbyist—wrote an unusual letter urging legislative leaders to kill the construction project in their districts, describing it as “unpopular,” “unnecessary,” “prohibitively expensive,” and in a nod to Republican sensibilities, “big government out of control.”
Riemer and Goyke are millennials, and they said their generation doesn’t want to live behind giant retaining walls that evoke postwar Berlin. Millennials seem to prefer walkable urban neighborhoods, where they can get to work without getting in a car.
“The road building community doesn’t get it,” Goyke said. “Their answer to everything is bigger and wider roads.”
State transportation officials, who initially agreed to show me around their megaprojects, later cancelled my tour and declined to comment; I was told by others that Walker’s aides had intervened. Goss and some of his colleagues with the road builders showed me around instead, and they noted that WISDOT actually backed off an earlier plan to double-deck that stretch of I-94, which would have been even more expensive and intrusive. The larger point for defenders of the megaprojects is that whether or not you like the carbon emissions, the land-use patterns, or the implications for the social contract, most Wisconsinites drive, and they do a lot of their driving on freeways. Only about 8 percent of the Milwaukee area’s commuters walk, bike, or take buses to work. The economy runs on concrete.
The critics argue that even for Wisconsinites who do drive, the state’s rush to supersize highways is draining upkeep for the local roads they use every day, like adding a new wing onto a house with a leaky roof and a busted furnace. In 2003, the ratio of state spending on highways to local roads was about 2:1. By 2013, the ratio had soared to more than 3:1—and state law prohibits municipalities from raising sales taxes to fix their own roads. Juan Carlos Ruiz, a Latino activist in Milwaukee, showed me around some of the city’s minority neighborhoods, where gutted streets contribute to a sense of malaise. Mandela Barnes, a young African-American state representative from the city’s north side, told me he recently had to replace the suspension on his Dodge Charger, a casualty of local potholes. Jeff Parisi, a contractor who has helped repair Main Streets in small towns like Waunakee, Platteville and Stoughton, said he’s scrambling to adjust to cuts in local road aid, and small towns with aging Main Streets are, too.
To highway boosters, those are powerful reasons to spend more on local roads, not to spend less on vital megaprojects. “It can’t be either-or,” said Wisconsin Transportation Development Association director Craig Thompson. “The interstates are 50 years old, and if we don’t get them ready for the future, we’ll put the entire state on hold.”
The interstate highways are lifelines of commerce: there’s no doubt about that. They transformed the American landscape in the fifties and sixties, sprouting hotels and office parks around their cloverleaf interchanges, and they still attract business with easy access. When Ruiz was complaining to me about the freeway megaprojects, his first complaint was that the latest design had gotten rid of an exit in the heart of the Latino community. Now most of the interstates are showing their age, and as far as Goss is concerned, the main opposition to upgrading them for the future is driven by environmentalists hoping to make suburban commutes inconvenient, so that Americans return to the city. Goss took me down I-94 south of Milwaukee, where the state is in the middle of another $2 billion widening project, to an interchange at Pleasant Prairie, where Amazon just built a gigantic distribution center employing 2500 workers.
“This is what happens when you invest in infrastructure,” Goss said.
But again, infrastructure investments are about choices. The Obama administration has tried to encourage states to adopt “fix-it-first” policies, and a competitive grant program known as TIGER has financed scores of innovative transportation projects since it was launched in the president’s 2009 stimulus package. But that’s a tiny fraction of the total federal budget for surface transportation, and for the most part the feds just write checks. As long as states comply with the relevant prevailing-wage laws and conduct the required traffic studies, they can usually do just about whatever they want with their share of the federal money. And traditionally, they mostly build highway projects; on Capitol Hill, the transportation authorizing legislation is still often referred to as “the highway bill.” The Senate tried to insert a fix-it-first mandate into the 2012 bill, requiring states to spend at least 60 percent of their road dollars on maintenance, but that didn’t make it into the final bill.
In recent years, though, states as politically diverse as Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska and North Dakota have moved in fix-it-first directions, while governors in Tennessee and Illinois have cancelled big expressway projects. California is now sending most of its federal dollars directly to metropolitan planning organizations, which tend to be less focused on pouring new concrete than state transportation departments are. And with a slew of studies suggesting that expanding highways does not end up relieving congestion, more officials are turning to carpool lanes, tolled “Lexus lanes,” and better information technology to help drivers avoid traffic. The University of Wisconsin actually houses a nationally renowned State Smart Transportation Initiative, which is now advising 20 states—including Wisconsin’s three neighbors—on reforms that would advance more environmentally sustainable and economically equitable development.
But its home state has not yet shown interest. Wisconsin has been focused on expanding highways to ease the flow of vehicles through the state, and converting remote villages like Pleasant Prairie into crossroads of the global economy. Those aren’t popular policies in the liberal outposts of Milwaukee and Madison, but Walker’s statewide appeals have always pitted suburban and “out-state” rural voters against the cities. Rep. Barnes laughed when I mentioned the jobs created by Amazon, asking me how I expected his constituents in north Milwaukee—especially the ones without cars—to get to work in Pleasant Prairie. There was supposed to be a commuter-rail line from Milwaukee to its southern suburbs, but Walker and the legislature killed it in 2011.
“It’s us-against-them politics, man,” Barnes said. “If there’s no way for blacks to get to your community, they won’t get to your community.”
That may sound harsh, but there’s history here. Around Milwaukee, the story of transportation and the story of race have been related stories.
THE MILWAUKEE AREA has received national attention for its intense political polarization, with some of America’s bluest urban precincts surrounded by some of America’s reddest suburbs, the launching pad for Walker’s rise. Several studies have also identified the region as the nation’s most racially segregated metropolitan area, with almost all its minorities within the city lines. And a recent study of 26 U.S. cities found that the Milwaukee metro had the greatest disparity between white and minority incomes. Rev. Willie Brisco, the leader of a coalition of inner-city pastors, described Milwaukee to me as a modern plantation encircled by hostile suburbs instead of physical gates. He said many blacks don’t have cars that can get them out of the city limits—and those that do often get pulled over by suspicious police.
It would be a vast oversimplification to blame all those divisions on transportation choices. But they reinforced each other.
“The lack of mobility for the inner core has helped create this cauldron of social and economic inequality,” said U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, an African-American who crushed Walker in his first race for public office. “The job growth is in the suburbs. The technical colleges are in the suburbs. Blacks are isolated in the city.”
Before the interstate era, Milwaukee was a city of white ethnics, the beer town portrayed in Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. As minorities moved in, many whites moved to the suburbs, a familiar pattern around the country. A local trolley network was torn down, and federal planners began routing freeways through the heart of the city. Norquist recalls a vibrant black neighborhood—including Hank Aaron’s home when he played for the Milwaukee Braves—getting razed to make way for I-43.
“The attitude was: Fuck them, they’re black, it’s a blighted neighborhood if those people live there,” Norquist told me. “Those freeways tore up the city.”
Urban geography is not always destiny. But in recent decades, while other regions have built rail lines—including newer metros with no real histories of embracing transit, like Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City—multiple plans to connect Milwaukee to its suburbs have crashed and burned.
In the 1990s, after helping to block a proposed freeway along the city’s lakefront, Mayor Norquist cut a bipartisan deal with Gov. Thompson and others to use some of the freed-up cash for light rail to the western suburbs. But after a fierce campaign fueled by conservative local talk radio hosts, who portrayed the project as a collectivist boondoggle, a group of Republican state legislators—including Walker—made killing it their top priority. Thompson was a train buff who served on Amtrak’s board, but he buckled to the pressure and scuttled light rail in 1997. Milwaukee officials later backed a plan to divert the money to commuter rail, but Walker squelched that when he became governor. Most of the money has gone back into highways, but after a long battle with Walker, Milwaukee did manage to keep a small portion for a two-mile downtown streetcar line. Walker and GOP leaders have battled the streetcar as well, passing legislation that will force the city to pay the cost of relocating utilities for the project, which would be unheard-of for a highway.
Public transportation just isn’t Walker’s thing; he once suggested his goal for transit was for every citizen to have a car. His opposition to a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison was a centerpiece of his first campaign for governor, and he followed through on his promise to kill it, sending $800 million in aid back to Washington. His first budget also included a 10 percent cut for public transit, which has contributed to a vicious cycle of diminished service, lower ridership, and additional fodder for transit critics. When I visited Milwaukee, local bus drivers had just finished a strike, stranding the city’s poorest residents for three days.
Walker’s office declined comment, but his allies attribute his fights against transit in part to an ideological belief that it unfairly drains money from taxpayers who don’t use it, and in part to a political affinity with GOP suburbanites who tend to view Milwaukee as a crime-ridden, welfare-dependent hellhole. Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin assembly, described public transit to me as “more of a social service than a traditional transportation program,” a handout for urban areas rather than an engine of economic development. You constantly hear this notion that Milwaukee is a misbegotten money pit on local talk radio, although the hosts rarely target the freeway megaprojects that benefit their drive-time listeners. (The complaints have focused on a pedestrian bridge over the Zoo, rather than the actual roadwork.) Those listeners have been Walker’s base throughout his political career.
“The governor is very conservative, and he pushes a lot of policies that don’t jibe with feelings in the city,” says Christian Schneider, a conservative columnist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “It’s unfair to call that racial. But it’s absolutely true that the divisions here are stark, and he reflects them.”
Whatever the intent, highway-focused policies tend to hurt denser areas, which tend to have more minorities and Democrats, and help more spread-out communities, which tend to be whiter and more Republican. Mandela Barnes told me a story about the old A.O. Smith automotive factory in Milwaukee, where his grandfather used to work as a welder. The factory provided thousands of jobs in the city’s heyday, but it shut down as manufacturing jobs fled overseas, and the black neighborhood around it decayed. The Spanish firm Talgo injected a revitalizing spark when it occupied the factory in 2009 to make trains for the high-speed rail line, which was eventually supposed to establish Milwaukee as a hub between Chicago and Minneapolis. Then Walker killed the project, so Talgo skipped town. It’s now suing the state to collect on the contracts that Walker terminated.
“On one level, it just destroyed the effort to revitalize the area,” said Barnes, another millennial lawmaker. “But it also made a statement: We hate modern transportation. We hate cities. I mean, even Manila has trains.”
WISCONSIN REPUBLICANS DON’T like spending on trains, or on government in general, but until this summer, they were always fine with spending on highways. Then they decided Walker had gotten too frisky with the state’s credit card.
Last year, at the governor’s request, Walker’s transportation secretary had proposed a new financing plan for the construction frenzy, including $750 million in new state taxes and fees. But as Walker began preparing his presidential campaign, he suddenly rejected his own administration’s plan, insisting he would not raise one nickel of new revenue, proposing instead to borrow $1.3 billion by floating new bonds. That’s when Republican leaders, feeling heat from debt-averse conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity,finally balked. State interest payments had already quadrupled to 18 cents on every transportation dollar since 2000, and Walker’s plan would have boosted that to 25 cents. They said that if Walker wouldn’t raise taxes, they would rein in his spending—and since local roads in rural communities were already feeling the pinch, the freeways around Milwaukee would have to take a hit as well.
“We’re already borrowing way too much money, and we’ve got unmet needs all over Wisconsin,” Speaker Vos told me. “The feeling was, we can’t just fund one part of the state while there’s a severe drought everywhere else.”
The budget ended up slicing $200 million out of the Zoo, which will delay part of the project at least two years. The Legislature also postponed the high-priced I-94 expansion indefinitely, and cut another $350 million in new highway projects, a startling blow to road interests who have sunk millions into legislative campaigns. The legislature even authorized an audit of WISDOT, including the skewed traffic projections, but Walker vetoed it. I joked to Goss that I was confused; everyone had told me the road builders run the state. “I guess Americans for Prosperity runs the state,” he grumbled. James Hoffman, a fourth-generation highway contractor whose father helped build the interstates, says he’s now seeking more work for his century-old Wisconsin business across the border in Minnesota—and rethinking his party affiliation.
“I didn’t leave the Wisconsin Republican Party; the Wisconsin Republican Party left me,” Hoffman said. “Cut, cut, cut is not going to fix our infrastructure.”
President Obama has urged Washington to take a different approach, proposing a six-year, $478 billion GROW AMERICA Act that would significantly increase funding for just about all forms of transportation, while moving the needle toward fix-it-first and metropolitan planning organizations. Obama has been banging the drum for more investments in infrastructure throughout his presidency, whether he cast it as part of “a new foundation,” “winning the future” or “middle-class economics.”
As the Republican Congress takes up its own transportation legislation, the big fights are likely to be about whether it should last for a few months or as long as six years, whether it should include unrelated provisions about the Export-Import Bank and Planned Parenthood; and whether it should be funded through a gimmick to recapture taxes from overseas corporations or some other revenue source. There has been no groundswell for reform on Capitol Hill. For now, Washington’s long-term transportation plan seems to be to keep shoveling billions of dollars to the states, to keep leaving it to local politicians to decide how those dollars are spent, and to hope somebody can eventually figure out a way to pay for it all.
The thing is, if there isn’t enough money to pay for it all, somebody is going to have to choose what to pay for. That was the surprise lesson of 2015 in Wisconsin.
“Everyone’s got legitimate needs, and I think we should fund all of them. I don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Goss said. “But if taxes are a dirty word, and fees and tolls are no good either, well, at some point, something’s got to give.”
Asociación vecinal, cuyo objeto es preservar la colonia habitacional unifamiliar, sus calles arboladas con aceras caminables, con trafico calmado, seguras para bici, parques, areas verdes, centros de barrio de uso mixto accesibles a pie y oficinas solo en áreas designadas.
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