Jefferson Banner - Opinion
Greg David
Greg David


Another change

September 25, 2000

The Transportation Project Commission (TPC) failed to fund the expansion of Hwy. 26 and the by-pass of Watertown. This is good news for our community, and I'd like to explain why.

First and foremost it tells us, we must all buy into the project. It sends a message that there needs to be consensus amongst municipalities and that one municipality does not make the decision for everyone else. Steven Foti's comment that the Oconomowoc by-pass has been held up for 30 years is a testimony to the seriousness of this condition.

Second, building bigger highways and by-passes is not a cure to the transportation problem we experience. Big roads simply treat symptoms of the problem, but never get to the root cause of the condition. In fact, bigger roads exacerbate the problem. It's like giving a junkie more heroin, thinking this is going to solve the problem of his addiction. This doesn't work for the junkie hooked on heroin or the junkie hooked on cheap gas and automobiles. Quite frankly, in both situations, supplying the junkie with more addictive substance only deepens the dependence which will fester into a larger problem in the future.

Third, this highway expansion will have consequences that are not being accounted for. Like any type of dope, it will make you feel good for a while, but there will be consequences to this big road joy-ride. Studies indicate that something called ‘induced usage' will occur when these big roads are built. That means that, ‘if you build it, they will come', and as they come, Watertown will grow.

Do we really want this for our community? Is getting bigger going to solve our property tax problem? It didn't in every other city that has expanded. The new tax-base and wealth do not pay for the cost of services, especially when subsidized with public tax dollars through TIF districts, free infrastructure and big roads.

People will move to our area because it is cheaper to build, and slightly quicker to commute to Milwaukee or Madison. More people means more houses and congestion. More houses and congestion means more taxes and more roads.

More roads means more induced usage, more government, bigger municipal buildings. It will consume more rural lands. It is an addiction. Feeding into it isn't the way to control it, it just makes it worse.

Have other cities that expand highway systems had reduced traffic problems? Not Madison, that's for sure. Their by-pass was supposed to treat their ‘needs' till 2015. It's clogged already. What other consequences will it have, besides higher taxes and more congestion? Have you driven through Waukesha, Milwaukee or Chicago lately? Do you enjoy the traffic jams and discourteous driving habits that freeways bring? Do you like that ‘rat race' feel? Do you like the pollution, the fumes, and smog? Do you appreciate their rural lands consumed by urban sprawl? Or would you prefer to keep our community more as it is? Isn't it nice to have the countryside just down the road, to have the quality of life a small town brings? Others think so. That's one reason for the big new roads to induce people to come, to induce development and expand urban sprawl, to fuel the economy. But when they come, they will destroy the very thing they desire, the small town condition. Building bigger roads feeds into the addiction and only treats the symptom, it doesn't work toward curing the problem.

I'm glad the TPC did not enumerate the Hwy. 26 project. This will give us time to re-think the wisdom of such a project. It will give us a chance to explore real solutions to the problem and make better choices for our future.