Gottlieb Rebuts MacIver Report

We were honored last year when retiring Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb agreed to serve on our board.

Gottlieb always struck us as a voice of calm reason and there was no doubt that he was committed to a multi-modal future. Sure, he wanted to build, improve and repair highways and bridges. Nothing wrong with that. But he was also supportive of facilities for cycling and walking and he understood the need for mass transit.

Last week I reported on a “study” by the MacIver Institute in which the “think” tank (I use these words in parentheses because I question how well they apply) attacked 14 bike projects as a waste of money that could have otherwise gone to road building.

We pointed out that all of those projects were funded through programs that could not have gone for road building. You could eliminate all of them and not save a dime for roads.

Moreover, these bike safety projects didn’t just happen. They happened because of local or state demand for those facilities. They happened with the active support (and often shared funding) of local governments. And they often happened at the urging of local business, chambers of commerce or tourist bureaus who saw their value for the local economy.

Former DOT Sec. Mark Gottlieb.

Now, Sec. Gottlieb has issued an impressive point-by-point rebuttal of the MacIver report.

He put his rebuttal in context when he wrote,

“I served six years as Secretary of the Department of Transportation under Governor Scott Walker. While I disagree with the Governor’s decision not to raise transportation revenue, and to continue to rely on unsustainable levels of borrowing, I respect his and the legislature’s right to make that determination. As a lifelong citizen of Wisconsin, it frightens me to think that their decisions might be based on the type of faulty analysis and false conclusions that characterize this report. For that reason, I have decided to speak up.”

In addition to challenging all of the 45 examples in the MacIver report, Gottlieb responded to each of the charges of bike project “waste.” His basic, clear response can be found in the very first claim made by MacIver that bike share stations in the Milwaukee suburbs were a waste of money that could have gone to roads:

“There is no state funding for bike and pedestrian facilities, and the federal funds can only be used for non-highway projects. Awarding federal dollars under a competitive program that can only be used for that specific purpose is not waste. These projects were applied for by local governments and federal funds were awarded on a competitive basis. The money could not legally be used for highway purposes.”

Gottlieb’s rebuttal is well worth reading. And this fact-based, measured response from the former secretary makes us even more proud that he agreed to join our board.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

2 thoughts on “Gottlieb Rebuts MacIver Report

  1. I too worked at WisDOT for quite a while. It would be interesting to confirm if federal allocations for non-highway programs that do not get spent by the time those funds “expire” get lumped together and offered back to the state to spend for any other transportation programs “at the sole discretion of the Governor and Legislature”. If so, this would make the MacIver Report “technically” accurate. The inner workings of federal/state funding programs are best known (and frequently manipulated) by powerful interests that prefer spending on road building. Does the MacIver Report tip their hand?

  2. While state highway projects are legislatively enacted, what isn’t implied is the DOT also does the projections of “need” and the planning for future road projects based on information from local metro planning organizations and local efforts to promote road projects. My impression of this part of the road authorization process is the DOT is trying to build so much capacity there will never be a traffic jam anywhere in the state, anytime. I think a large part of this is in response to endemic speeding the DOT seems unable or unwilling to do anything about. I don’t see those message boards on the highways telling motorists to slow down; there are seemingly no media efforts to promote safe driving. Is the Vision Zero campaign now just a set roadway design criteria? Of course speeding = higher fuel consumption = more gas tax revenue. And speeding is VERY expensive and often dangerous to enforce, except when you can employ technology such as speed and red light cameras. But our “wise” legislators have enacted law prohibiting them with the same ethical grounding that makes Wisconsin the easiest place in the nation to drive drunk. Much of the new I-41 design where I live seems to accommodate vehicles traveling in the 80-90 mph range instead of the posted limit. I’m just not sure three thru lanes each way along with two or three transition lanes at entry/exits in Green Bay are otherwise warranted, even for Packer games and other stadium events. And even with all those lanes, the excessive speeds of most motorists still makes it a hair-raising endeavor to get on or off the highway. My concern is why there seems to be no effort to determine whether putting all of our egg$ in the road building basket is wise? Shouldn’t there be some way of looking at how much motor vehicle traffic is too much so we active promote ways to reduce car and truck use and improve the efficiency and desirability other modes to get around? Instead, other forms of transportation get paltry sums compared with their potential, eroding their usefulness. Yet all our high speed road building keeps getting more expensive, less efficient and degrades the character of our cities and villages. It just seems the state and most local DOTs have lost or never had a balanced transportation sort of thinking on the front end.

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