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Scott Walker, Posterboy for Government Waste

10:28 AM EDT on May 5, 2011

It's no secret that Scott Walker is basically running for president of the Tea Party from the governor's seat in Wisconsin. But the fact is when you examine his policies, they're not conservative at all. In fact, they're wasteful. On transportation in particular, Walker is a consummate borrow-and-spender (particularly if that spending benefits his buddies in the highway construction industry).

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Case in point, last month we reported Walker was putting forward $400 million in new highway projects, despite his state's apparent "broke"ness. To balance things out, this week we learn he has cut all funding for bike and pedestrian projects in the state, for a paltry $5.7 million in savings. He also cut $7 million from transit.

Fiscal problems, solved!

Dave Schlabowske at Network blog Over the Bars in Milwaukee recognizes a conservative when he sees one. His grandfather was a Reagan supporter who reused scraps of tinfoil and rode the bus to work to save money. Schlabowske says Walker's proposal surely has his grandfather rolling over in his grave:

A fiscally conservative person might also reasonably argue that while bikes are nice, we have to fix our crumbling roads and bridges for all modes before we can afford nice extras like bike lanes, trails and sidewalks. But remember building roads is really expensive (around $50 million per mile for freeways), and Walker’s budget includes funds to expand our freeways, rather than just rebuild them. Take a drive down I94 south towards Chicago and you can see all the bridges are about twice as wide and the freeway is 50% wider. Why would a fiscally responsible person expand the extremely expensive interstate, increasing annual maintenance and operational costs by 50% when the demand does not warrant expansion? For years the traffic volumes on our freeways have stayed about the same or even gone down. The larger future maintenance costs of an expanded freeway and highway system are a legacy of higher taxes for future generations.

The other reason a cut in bicycle spending is irresponsible in the face of expanded budgets for automobiles is that 50% of all trips made by car are less than 2 miles and 25% are less than one mile, a distance easily travelled by bicycle or on foot. Building and maintaining all those roads for such short trips seems very wasteful. We also have to provide parking spaces for all those cars making unnecessary trips. A true fiscal conservative would save the money and walk or bike.

We could save a lot of money rebuilding roads if we could cut the traffic volumes by 50% or 25%. Imagine it costs a lot less to rebuild a four lane road as a two lane road than it does to rebuild it as a four lane road again (or a six lane as Walker is doing). Maybe I’m just a cheap Milwaukee Pollack like my grandpa (I wash and reuse aluminum foil too), but I’d call cutting funding for bikes and transit while building bigger roads just plain wasteful.

Elsewhere on the Network today: New Haven Safe Streets reports that local roads built to ConnDOT's specifications are the sites of most of the region's fatal collisions, supporting the argument for reforming the state's street design policies. The Natural Resources Defense Council's Switchboard blog carries an account of 11 newly honored "walk-friendly" cities, with Seattle topping the list. And Crossroads examines how New York's Active City Guidelines for urban design can be applied to help increase physical activity across the country.

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