Friday, January 27, 2017

That Explains It

It's always interesting when you think one thing is the cause of a problem--but it turns out to be something completely different.  For a couple of years now, we have been told that the Wisconsin transportation budget is running a huge structural deficit because our gas taxes are too low and that we don't pay enough in registration fees.  We are even being threatened with toll roads to "fix the revenue problem".  And then yesterday the Legislative Audit Bureau released its report on spending at the DOT, and the real cause of budget crisis is clearly revealed: Wisconsin highway projects come in over budget.  WAY over budget. 
Projects done from 2008 to last year were $780-MILLION more expensive than what was budgeted for them.  The real killer is that projects currently underway here in Wisconsin are projected to go $3-BILLION over budget by the time they are completed.  To put this into perspective, the "crisis" facing the highway fund right now is an estimate $1-BILLION dollar structural deficit.  Sounds to me like we would actually be fine if some estimators had done a much better job ten years ago getting their numbers right.
I understand that major projects like that--which are estimated and bid out years before any construction actually starts--are difficult to accurately assess.  But somehow the initial price tag on the Interstate 41 expansion between Oshkosh and Green Bay was only ONE-THIRD of the actual final cost.  Was the inflation rate that high and I missed it the last ten years?  Did the project take three times as long to complete as it was supposed to?  Let's hope the people that put together the project estimate for that have retired to Florida and are collecting their State pensions by now.
Of course, when officials realized that they were looking at huge cost overruns they should have done two things: 1--Alerted some people at the state capitol who actually approve the funding for these projects--no matter how "embarrassing" it may be.  And 2--start cutting costs.  If you take the I41 expansion project as an example, foregoing the stamped concrete look on the overpasses probably could have saved some money.  Yes "plain old concrete" overpasses are boring to look at while driving--but they carry cars over the interstate just as efficiently and safely as those that "look pretty".  They could have done away with the "artwork" hidden below the Butte des Morts Causeway.  I'm pretty sure the walleye fishermen and the drunks headed up to Fremont in their loud powerboats won't enjoy their day any less If they didn't have fish paintings to look at on the way to the up-river lakes.
And of course, the biggest cost savings could have been had by eliminating the dozens of roundabouts that were installed at nearly every interchange along the I41 expansion project route.  Not having to make additional land purchases, not having to reroute frontage roads and re-align cross roads would have saved time, resources, manpower and money. 
That's My Two Cents--which would cost the DOT Six Cents.

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