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The Highway of Hypocrisy

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on January 21, 2011

Even before he was sworn into office, Scott Walker swore to kill high speed rail in Wisconsin. And kill it he did. Walker told the voters that he was opposed to HSR for a number of reasons. It was too expensive. No one would ride it. Even though the great bulk of it, including maintenance costs, would be paid with federal funds, it was still tax payers money and it should be used for something else, like paying down the deficit.

People from all over the state, even from around the Midwest, protested Walker’s
myopia and pointed out how he was only giving all this money, and the corresponding jobs, to other states who knew a good deal when they saw it, Walker was determined in his headlong rush to bring this great state down.
Now, not even in office for three weeks, Walker is singing a vastly different tune regarding his “fiscal responsibility” to the tax payers.
The Janesville Gazette is reporting that Walker has iterated his position of being in favor of the expansion of I-90/39, calling it a “priority:”

As a candidate for Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker supported the expansion of Interstate 90/39.

As governor, he still does.

“Absolutely it’s a priority, not only for Rock County but for the rest of the state,” Walker said Tuesday after a meeting with the leadership of Rock County 5.0, a five-year public/private economic development initiative designed to reposition and revitalize the county’s economy.

In October, the state Transportation Projects Commission approved four statewide projects, including the $1 billion plan to expand a 45-mile stretch of Interstate from four lanes to six between the state line and the Beltline in Madison.

Well, well, the problems with Walker’s arguments are already popping up all over the place.
Walker called HSR as being too expensive at $810 million. But he doesn’t blink an eye at spending over a billion dollars on a freeway. But even the $190,000+ difference is only the tip of this iceberg.
The HSR which was to be built before Walker decided he was against economic development would have included not just the Milwaukee to Madison route, a distance of over 70 miles, but also upgrades to the current Hiawatha track from Milwaukee to Chicago. The $810 million would have also gone to fixing up train stations, repair sheds and other related projects.
The billion dollars for the freeway would pay for just the 45 miles of freeway, and doesn’t include any overruns. Nor does that bill include the plowing and road repairs that would come with it.
The HSR between Milwaukee and Madison was to be just a part of a nationwide system and would have made both cities hubs in the economic boom that will come with it. The highway that Walker is supporting would go from Janesville to Madison. That’s not a route that would be called a big economic boon.
Walker complained about the cost that the feds weren’t going to pay for the train, even though that was only the cost of operation, and the feds were still going to pick up 90% of that tab, bringing the entire cost for all the money, all those jobs and that economic turn around coming from the train to about $750,000. In comparison, the feds would only pick up 40-50% of the cost of building the freeway, and none of the follow up costs.
The story is the same if you look at usage as well. The projected ridership of the HSR was set at 476,400 people for just the first year alone. The number of cars using that stretch of highway is 45,000. Unless you figure that these cars are clown cars with at least ten people inside each one, the freeway is again a much higher expense to the tax payers.
So, HSR would have been much less expensive for state tax payers per mile and per user than this relatively short stretch of freeway expansion would be. But if that is the case, why would Walker, who likes to promote himself as being a fiscal conservative, make such a foolish decision like killing the rail system but backing the more expensive freeway?
The answer is simple.
In Walker’s mind, he is not beholden to the voters or the tax payers of the state. His true loyalty is to those that helped buy his way into the governor’s seat: the road builders.
There is one more red flag of which the people should be aware.
In the Gazette article, Walker is already claiming poverty, blaming the previous administration for his woes. (Note to Walker: Since you were so ready to blame President Obama from day one for the nation’s problems, then the state problems are yours now.)
This means one of three things. It could mean Walker has no intention of following through with his pledged support for the freeway, and was just saying what he thinks the people want to hear. Or it could mean that he is setting up the basis for proposing Wisconsin’s first toll road to help pay for this boondoggle. Or it could mean that Walker is getting ready to really stick it to the tax payers.
Perhaps they should put up signs up and down that stretch of freeway labeling that stretch of concrete as “Scott Walker’s Highway of Hypocrisy.”
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