Saturday, August 05, 2006

State's DOT Needs Money? or Smarts?

Here's the DOT's version:

Soaring inflation added $384.6 million to the cost of 27 road projects over the past six months, according to a new Department of Transportation report.

Double-digit construction inflation, coupled with other cost increases, brought the total price of the projects to $3.69 billion - nearly double the original $1.95 billion estimate.

Not only is the Transportation Department facing higher costs, but gas tax revenue is down because people are driving less in the face of rising gas prices. (Really? Just a week ago, radio news-types were telling us that gasoline consumption was level in the State.)

Now here's the fun part:

Highways for years have had bigger budget increases than many other areas of the state budget. From 1994 to 2002, the budget for highway construction rose by nearly $100 million, or 44%. During that time, donations to state politicians from road interests tripled.

The most recent jumps in project costs are due to inflation, as construction costs rapidly rise along with fuel and steel prices

The cost of one of the projects near Wisconsin Dells rose by 44% over the past six months. In the report's cover letter, Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi said the cost of structural steel jumped 45.6% and excavation costs rose 21.5% over the past 12 months, in large part because of exploding fuel costs.

Over 15 years, inflation has played a prime role in the near doubling of the cost of the projects, in large part because work has been delayed - sometimes for years - as the state tries to assemble enough money to build the projects.

"As you go through the design process, you get a better idea of how much dirt you're going to have to move and how much concrete you're going to have to move," Wolfgram said. "The cost of buying that dirt and buying that concrete is way up."

Are these people trying to tell us that they never re-bid these projects? That they took 2, 5, or 15-year-old estimates and ran with them? Is THIS what we call "capital planning?" Is THIS why DOT employs a bazillion engineers and project managers?

...the U.S. Highway 41 project from De Pere to Suamico has more than doubled in cost since it was first planned in 2002, rising from $205 million to $416.5 million. In the past six months alone, the project cost rose $51.8 million, or 14%. (Damned expensive deer crossing, eh?)

Another section of Highway 41, near Highway 26 in Winnebago County, will cost $337.5 million, up from $225 million four years ago. Together, the two Highway 41 projects will cost nearly as much as Milwaukee's Marquette Interchange, the most expensive road project in the state.

I'll bet we can name the legislators who rammed these projects through. Ummmnnnhhh....Suamico. Ummmnnnn...Oshkosh.

No wonder the road-builders hired that ex-State-cop to bleat and whine that "Only New Roads Can Save Lives."

Even worse:

Sen. Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse), co-chairman of the Road to the Future Committee, said lawmakers were looking at the entire transportation system, including mass transit. He said lawmakers would consider all options to fund highways.

"I'm not saying I'm going to tolerate an increase in gas taxes or fees, but everything has to be on the table," he said.

After all, campaign contributions have to come from somewhere.

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