Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Officials: DOT not in financial bind

Confusion over statements made by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation that there is a funding crisis prompted unnecessary controversy this week, according to state officials.

"Paying for future transportation projects is an issue, but there's been some misunderstanding to a recent statement attributed to me," DOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi said in an e-mail. "There is certainly no 'crisis.'"

Busalacchi's previously misinterpreted statements that the DOT is experiencing a financial crunch initiated comments last Friday by Gov. Jim Doyle in defense of transportation spending.


"There is no immediate crisis," Doyle spokesman Dan Leistikow said, backing Busalacchi's assertion.

Although state officials are in agreement that there is no impending crisis for the DOT, there is an argument between Doyle and the Legislature over why funding may be a problem in the future.

According to some legislators, much-needed transportation funding was diverted for other uses.

Doyle's office, however, expressed a different view, saying there is no problem with the way the state funds were handled.

"One of the choices [Doyle] had to make was using some of the surplus money in the transportation fund to support education," Leistikow said.

He added that there was a 16 percent increase in funding for highways and only a 3.2 percent increase for the state's schools.

Leistikow said there have been "devastating cuts" in education, which necessitated extra funding to be earmarked for education.

Although state officials maintain there is no DOT crisis, a special legislative committee has been formed to discuss what steps need to be taken to ensure there will be funding security in the future.

"It is always worthwhile to debate support[ing] infrastructure in this state," Leistikow said of the special committee.

The committee will mainly focus on long-term funding problems because the transportation budget is secure for the immediate future.

"Important projects are moving forward all around the state," Busalacchi said, adding the DOT is proceeding with more than $4 billion in transportation investments during the current two-year budget cycle.

But others question the necessity of any new highway projects in Wisconsin.

In particular, 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin — an organization promoting healthy urban and rural communities — has raised concerns about transportation spending.

"We need a real assessment of transportation needs versus transportation dreams," 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin Executive Director Steve Hiniker said.

For example, Hiniker said that a $1 billion plan to widen the interstate in downtown Milwaukee will take nearly 20 years to complete, destroy neighborhoods and save only four minutes in travel time from Waukesha to downtown Milwaukee.

He added that the problem in the DOT budget is not with highway spending, but in transit funding.

According to Hiniker, public transportation usage will increase as the cost of gas rises — a trend he pointed to as evidence of a need for more investment in transit systems.

Hiniker blamed legislators for "pork barrel spending," a phrase used for allocating money for potentially unnecessary projects.

"Legislators cannot help themselves. They view highway construction in their districts as one of the perks of being a legislator," he said. "You'll never get a legislator to say any highways projects in their district are not needed."

Despite controversy over what projects to pursue, the DOT and Doyle agree they will be able to work cooperatively to address future funding problems.

"In the long run leaders are going to have to work together to find a solution, but the state certainly has the resources to do so," Leistikow said.

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