9/9/18 – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Gov. Scott Walker’s former transportation secretary says the GOP governor isn’t telling the truth about road projects and is taking a high-risk gamble that could see the state invest billions of dollars in obsolete highways.

Walker has been “increasingly inaccurate” when describing the state’s highway system, said Mark Gottlieb, a Republican who was in the Assembly for eight years and served as Walker’s transportation secretary from 2011 to 2017.

Gottlieb is the third former top aide to Walker to speak out against the governor in recent months as he faces a re-election challenge from Democrat Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent.

In an interview and a lengthy written statement, Gottlieb reacted strongly to Walker’s suggestion last week that the state could save money by declining to add lanes when it rebuilds roads.

Gottlieb said state and federal officials go through a lengthy process to determine when to add lanes to roads to reduce traffic congestion and accidents. The governor contended people may drive less in the future, but Gottlieb noted traffic has been increasing since the country climbed out of the 2008 recession.

“Most highways being actively considered for expansion in Wisconsin are already unacceptably congested today, causing delay, economic loss and higher crash rates,” Gottlieb said in his statement. “How much risk are we willing to accept to see if the governor’s predictions hold true? If they don’t, we will have spent billions of dollars to duplicate 1960-era designs that will be obsolete the day they are built.”

Walker campaign spokesman Austin Altenburg blamed former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle for shifting money from roads to schools. The funds Doyle and lawmakers transferred out of the transportation fund have since been paid back.

“Critics can say what they want, but the fact is Scott Walker cleaned up the mess Democrats created when they controlled state government and raided the transportation fund by $1.3 billion,” Altenburg said in his statement.

Walker is committed to investing in roads and bridges and will “continue fighting for his plan to keep Wisconsin working for generations to come,” Altenburg’s statement said.

In the interview, Gottlieb said he was speaking out because Walker hadn’t been honest about transportation. He declined to say whom he planned to vote for this fall.

Gottlieb said he left the Walker administration in part because he and Walker disagreed on transportation. He was not forced out and the decision to leave was “absolutely my choice,” he said.

At a Tuesday event in Milwaukee, Walker said some groups “want to spend billions and billions and billions of dollars on more, bigger, wider interchanges across the state.”

“I don’t know that we need bigger and better and broader right now when we have a changing transportation system,” Walker said.

Gottlieb said Walker’s claims wrongly implied that decisions about expanding highways were made by outside groups. He noted state and federal laws require extended review of such decisions and officials take into account public input.

As an example, Gottlieb cited the study for rebuilding I-94 between the Marquette and Zoo interchanges in Milwaukee. The study runs nearly 1,000 pages and costs more than $20 million to produce.

Walker initially backed the project, but shelved it last year after federal officials said they were prepared to withdraw their authorization for the project because the state couldn’t show it had a way to fund the work.

Before abandoning the project, Walker’s administration supported adding lanes to that stretch of I-94 because it was expected to ease congestion and greatly reduce crashes.

“The governor’s seemingly offhand comment that the decision to widen our highways is driven by outside interests is not factually based, and is profoundly disrespectful to the professionals in the private and public sector who are trained to design and build safe and efficient highways for all to use,” said Gottlieb, a retired civil engineer.

Gottlieb’s comments come soon after two other top Walker aides publicly rebuked the governor.

Former Financial Institutions Secretary Peter Bildsten last month said Walker’s team had told him to meet with payday loan lobbyists and discouraged him from creating documents that could be released under the public records law. And former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall last month published a book that portrays Walker as more concerned about his unsuccessful presidential run than the needs of the state.

Both Bildsten and Wall have cut digital ads for Evers.

Walker aides have questioned their motivations, saying Bildsten was let go after he clashed with Walker and noting Wall was later fired from a Department of Justice job after he told a Walker aide to feel free to destroy a document.

Gottlieb may be harder for Republicans to attack. He was in leadership during his tenure in the Assembly and many Republicans now serving there share Gottlieb’s view that more money is needed for roads.

Walker hasn’t named which projects he thinks could get by without adding lanes. He has said he will issue a transportation plan this month.

Walker’s latest idea has won the backing of liberal organizations that have opposed his transportation policies in the past. Among those now praising him are 1000 Friends of Wisconsin and the John Muir chapter of the Sierra Club, two groups that sued the state over road projects when Walker backed expanding roads.

Walker has fought with his fellow Republicans in the Legislature to prevent increasing the gas tax of 32.9 cents per gallon.

Walker has said he would consider raising the gas tax only if other taxes were cut by the same amount or more. The GOP dispute over road funding caused a three-month delay in passing last year’s state budget.

Evers has called for investing more in roads and has said he would consider raising the gas tax to do so. He’s refused to say how much of an increase he would be willing to tolerate.

Evers’ campaign has said Walker’s idea of blocking wider roads would cause “an economic disaster” in some areas.

The state spends about $3 billion a year on transportation using a mix of state and federal funds.