Wisconsin Governor’s Highway Boondoggles Exposed by New Report

For Immediate Release


Phineas Baxandall, Ph.D., Senior Analyst at U.S. PIRG


Wisconsin Governor’s Highway Boondoggles Exposed by New Report

WASHINGTON - Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who famously rejected $800 million in federal funds for high-speed rail over an estimated $8 million in annualoperating subsidies, has since proposed four dubious new highway projects that could end up costing Wisconsin taxpayers over $2 billion. A new reportreleased by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group examined these potential boondoggles using official state assessments and the assistance of a veteran state policy official.

Governor Walker has proposed these unnecessary and expensive highway expansions while imposing 10 percent cuts to local road repair and transit services - in stark contrast to his campaign promises to eliminate government waste and fix potholes.

“Governor Walker’s transportation plan is spending gone wild on questionable projects and unnecessary highway expansions,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG Director.  “Rather than prioritizing Wisconsin’s existing roads and transit service, Governor Walker has chosen extravagant and unnecessary ribbon-cutting projects.”

The new report, Building Boondoggles: Is Governor Walker Spending Billions on Four Roads to Nowhere?, examines official documents and finds a lack of justification for these projects. It also found outdated data and insufficient review for the four new major highway projects that would be queued up for future spending in Governor Walker’s proposal.  For example, the report found:

·  The official data cited for a widening of I-90 is both nearly 10 years old and does not support widening lanes as a measure to mitigate congestion.  Additionally, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has inexplicably chosen the most expensive option for construction in every case on this project. Predictions for the cost of this project range from $715 million to $1.5 billion.

·  The official internal statement for the $125 million Highway 15 widening project in Outagamie County states that an intersection improvement might be a lower-cost and viable alternative to a major highway construction project.  It also states that without additional spending, the Level of Service on the road likely won’t deteriorate until 2040.

Governor Walker proposes a 13 percent increase in funding for highways in the current budget, totaling $328 million.  At the same time, he cuts local transportation assistance by $48 million and transit services by $10 million. U.S. PIRG has shown in the pasthow most states have tended to spend lavishly on new highways, while neglecting existing roadways and more efficientforms of transportation.

WISPIRG, the Wisconsin affiliate of U.S. PIRG, recommends that state leaders reject these four proposed projects until further review can determine whether they are needed.  Most importantly, WISPIRG recommends that state leaders restore funding for local road repair and transit services – urgent and important transportation needs.  Finally, WISPIRG recommends that state leaders review the transportation planning and review process to ensure that taxpayer money is not diverted to unnecessary projects in the future.


“Governor Walker’s highway boondoggles are like a homeowner building an addition for their hot tub while neglecting their leaky roof,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst for U.S. PIRG.

“It just doesn’t make sense. The governor insists on killing a path-breaking high-speed rail project due to relatively small sums and then has extravagant enthusiasm for unnecessary highway expansions. Governor Walker basically traded 262 years of high-speed rail service and 800 million federal dollars for four unneeded highway widenings,” Baxandall added.


U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), stands up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being. With a strong network of researchers, advocates, organizers and students in state capitols across the country, we take on the special interests on issues, such as product safety,political corruption, prescription drugs and voting rights,where these interests stand in the way of reform and progress.

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