Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rowen's take on city vs. WisDOT

Jim Rowen has a nice analysis of the city vs. WisDOT dispute over the North-South I-94 billions of bucks boondoggle. It's spot on.

It looks like the comment period is indeed extended

This morning's JS report that the comment period on the I-94 NS project indeed has been extended sent me scrambling -- can FHWA unilaterally extend a comment period?

Appears to be the answer is 'yes.' From the AASHTO Practictioner's Handbook:

Extending the Comment Period
Requests to extend the comment period are frequently received, particularly for larger and
more complex projects. The decision about whether to extend the comment
period rests with the lead agency, which is typically FHWA for a highway project. The requirements of Section 6002 of SAFETEA-LU should be considered when deciding whether
to extend a comment period. Section 6002 establishes (with allowance for some exceptions) a 60-day maximum comment period for comments on a DEIS, and a 30-day maximum for other comment periods.

Friday, December 28, 2007

City rips I-94 North-South impact statement

From the city's letter:

"The DEIS indicates that WISDOT's preferred alternative is the Safety and Design Improvements with Added Capacity. While DPW is supportive of freeway geometric improvements in the north-south corridor to improve safety, it is DPWs position that the DEIS is significantly deficient with respect to alternative analysis as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and does not adequately justify freeway expansion."

DEIS stands for Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

More at Michael Hornes' MilwaukeeWorld.

FHWA seeks extended comment period for I-94 project

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking an extension of the public comment period on the North-Sourth I-94 project until Jan. 25, according to David J. Scott, FHWA's Marquette Interchage / SE Freeways Coordinator.

Scott informed us of FHWA's move today. WisDOT has not responded, at least in public -- the Dec. 31 cut-off date is still on its web site, but it would be hard to imagine Frank Busalacchi and co. blowing off the feds' request.

CASH, Ald. Bob Bauman and the city of Milwaukee sought extensions to the comment period.

Remember, though, that an extended comment period ain't a done deal. Its best to get comments in by Dec. 31 and add to them later than to bet the comment period will be extended and be wrong about it.

CASH seeks extended comment period

The CASH press release:

WisDOT withheld records, CASH says;
seeks extended comment period on I-94 project

Dec. 28 – The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s improper withholding of requested records is blocking a full review of the agency’s plan for North-South I-94, Citizens Allied for Sane Highways said Friday.

CASH is asking WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi to extend until Feb. 1 the time period during which members of the public may comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project. The comment period now is scheduled to expire Monday.

CASH is a coalition formed to oppose freeway expansion in Milwaukee.

The agency’s failure to provide the records likely is a violation of the state’s Open Records Law, CASH co-chair Gretchen Schuldt said.

“We asked WisDOT on Nov. 30 for certain electronic files so we could closely examine impacts of WisDOT’s proposal on affected properties,” Schuldt said. “WisDOT never provided any files, and then the official we were dealing with went on vacation until after the comment period closes. That’s not the way the law is supposed to work.”

WisDOT suggested that CASH should seek some of the requested information from county governments, but failed to release even records generated by WisDOT staff or contractors.

CASH, in a letter to Busalacchi, also raised concerns with the timing of the comment period – it begins and ends with the holiday season.

“WisDOT couldn’t have chosen a better time to minimize public participation than the holidays, when people are incredibly busy and incredibly pre-occupied,” Schuldt said. “All we are asking for is an extended comment period, which will give interested residents a chance to reengage in the process and will allow appropriate time to resolve the open records issue.”

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Public comment deadline approaching

The end of the public comment period for the I-94 North-South project is scheduled to end Dec. 31 (although CASH is seeking an extension, seeing as WisDOT has absolutely refused to give us records to which we are entitled under the law, thus preventing us from fully analyzing WisDOT's proposal for the freeway).

You can weigh in on the WisDOT plan to spend $1.9 billion plus hundreds of millions of dollars more in interest cost by
  • calling the project hotline: (262) 548-8721
  • e-mailing dotsefreeways94nsc@dot.state.wi.us
  • faxing comments to (262) 548-5662
  • or sending them to WisDOT: Attention Bob Gutierrez at P.O. Box 798 Waukesha, WI 53187-0798
If you haven't read the Environmental Impact Statement yet, you can find it at http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/projects/d2/i94/eis.htm

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Who hates WisDOT's 27th Street plan? Just about everybody

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is taking special aim at Milwaukee's S. 27th St. business corridor. First, WisDOT recommend that an interchange be built at Drexel Ave. in Oak Creek. Building that interchange will hurt efforts to redevelop 27th Street in Milwaukee. WisDOT acknowledges this little inconvenience in its I-94 North-South draft Environmental Impact Statement -- and just about nowhere else. WisDOT doesn't like to talk about it, and mostly isn't.

And then there is the little matter of taking away the 27th Street ramp for people driving northbound through the Mitchell Interchange. WisDOT says that keeping the ramp open would mean the destruction of several houses. 27th Street business owners, fearful that closing the ramp will hurt them even more, are telling WisDOT to work harder to find a better plan.

Tom Graebner, ower of the Hospitality Inn at 4400 S. 27th St., says that "the closure of the westbound 27th Street exit will directly impact my business and its value to the community."

"I'm told an alternative would be to use the Layton Ave. exit," Graebner wrote in a letter. "In my opinion people will not choose to exit two miles from their destination, in the midst of a city they may not be familiar with, and navigate westbound through three stop-and-go lights before reaching 27th Street. I don't choose to do it, and I live here. Whatever problems are caused by congestion are limited to a small portion of the day, and are certainly no worse than on many other areas of the freeway. In addition, valuable taxpayer money has already been spent on improving and tweaking the area in the past. Why the sudden desire to rob 27th Street of a great asset?"

Letter after letter from business owner, telling Frank Busalacchi and the rest of the paveheads at WisDOT what a terrible idea they've come up with.

Stay tuned for more.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

WisDOT punches Milwaukee again

Negotiations to save a bus route that carries Milwaukee residents to Waukesha jobs are headed for failure. No one wants to pay the $100,000 cost of the bus, and Milwaukee resident will end up bearing the brunt of the burden of the cut.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation wants to spend $1.9 billion-plus-hundreds-of-millions-in interest to expand North-South I-94 even though it will add enormous amounts of construction- and vehicle-related pollution just when Milwaukee is likely to be declared a non-attainment area for particulate pollution under new EPA guidelines. WisDOT's very merry projections of declining pollution levels after the expansion project are based in part on huge increases in mass transit and guess what -- WisDOT isn't proposing funding for new mass transit projects.

WisDOT also says proposed interchange at Drexel Ave. in Oak Creek may (WisDOT quite often uses the word "may" when it means "will") hurt redevelopment efforts on the S. 27th St. corridor in Milwaukee and may mean businesses may be less likely to move to developed commercial strips when they can waltz into the new commercial area opened up by the interchange. "Induced development," they call it.

And here we are again: Milwaukee is hurt by the decision to cut the No. 9 bus route; Milwaukee is hurt by WisDOT's decision to push ahead with a pollution-generating freeway expansion project when Milwaukee is going to be a non-compliance area for pollution; and Milwaukee is hurt by WisDOT's decision to subsidize suburban sprawl in Oak Creek at the expense of commercial strips in the big city.

And I haven't even mentioned the reeky, rotten Pabst Farms interchange deal that will open up more of Waukesha County at the expense of -- you guessed it -- Milwaukee.

What gives here? These sprawl subsidies are bestowed by WisDOT, which answers directly to the road-building industry and Gov. Jim Doyle. I'm trying to figure out why Doyle is using the WisDOT budget to fillet and gut Milwaukee and Milwaukee redevelopment efforts.

A cynic might suggest that the state's transportation policies are designed to keep Milwaukee residents in Milwaukee and suburban residents flying through the city as fast as wider freeways can carry them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Now you can hear it

We've posted audio of WisDOT's Bob Gutierrez explaining how closed-door, secret testimony constitutes a public hearing, in WisDOT's view. The audio file is here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

WisDOT says its Drexel interchange plan may hurt Milwaukee

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation knows the building an interchange at I-94 and Drexel Ave. will harm the city of Milwaukee and its efforts to keep the 27th St. business district healthy.

Here's the summary, from WisDOT's own draft Environmental Impact Statement, on the effects of an interchange at Drexel Ave. in Oak Creek.

New interchange at Drexel Avenue
Induced growth very likely
• The pace and intensity of development along 27th Street may increase.
• The development pattern along Drexel Avenue could change from residential/open spaces to
commercial development.
Potential to influence interregional land development patterns - redevelopment along 27th Street in Milwaukee may be discouraged as the ease of developing “greenfield” sites in Oak Creek and Franklin increases.
May increase the competitiveness of new “greenfield” sites and discourage reinvestment in existing urban corridors. (Emphasis mine)

Hmm, wonder if the brains at WisDOT also figured out that reducing access to 27th St. from the freeway, as current plans call for, also will be a devastating blow to businesses along the strip.

Betcha they have.

Another study linking ill health and heavy traffic

From News-Medical Net:

Exposure to traffic pollution may increase respiratory problems and reduce lung volumes in children with asthma, according to researchers who studied the effects of road and traffic density on children's lung function and respiratory symptoms in the border town of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.

"Our results show that close proximity to vehicular traffic-related emissions, either at home or at school, can lead to chronic effects in the respiratory health of children with asthma," said Fernando Holguin, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of pulmonary medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, and lead author of the study, which appeared in the second issue for December of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published by the American Thoracic Society.

Traffic-related pollutants are known to be associated with asthma severity, but to what extent they affect airway inflammation and lung volume in both asthmatic and nonasthmatic children was unknown. "Major cities along the northern and southern US borders often have high levels of vehicular traffic flows, especially at the border crossing points. Vehicular traffic emissions from the high density of border crossing traffic may be negatively affecting the health of populations who live in nearby areas," said Dr. Holguin.

To investigate how specific traffic-related pollutants affected children's lung function and respiratory symptoms, the researchers recruited 200 age- and sex-matched asthmatic and non-asthmatic schoolchildren from ages six to 12. Over the course of a year, they measured road and traffic density and traffic-associated pollutants near the children's homes and schools, and evaluated each child's lung function and respiratory symptoms consecutively for four months.

Thanks, alderman

Ald. Terry Witkowski told his Common Council colleagues last week that it is too late to try to influence WisDOT's recommendation to add lanes to North-South I-94.

The public comment period for the proposal doesn't end until Dec. 31.

Maybe Ald. Witkowski knows something the rest of us don't.

More on the latest North-South developments here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

New air pollution designation likely for freeway area

The very place where the Wisconsin Department of Transportation wants to expand particulate-producing freeways is likely to be declared a non-attaniment area for the revised, stricter particulate pollution standards that took effect a year ago.

There's even a one-paragraph discussion of the topic on page 118 of the 367-page draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed, unfunded $1.9 billion I-94 expansion project:

The study area in Wisconsin is in attainment for PM2.5, as based on the present designation. The air quality monitoring network in southeastern Wisconsin indicates that it is likely that a portion of the study areas may be designated as being in non-attainment for the revised PM2.5 standard, which became effective on December 17, 2006. The DNR is presently preparing information for review by U.S. EPA. A final determination on the attainment designation is expected near the end of 2009.

Wait! 2009! Isn't that the year WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi suddenly decided that he wants to begin rebuilding the Mitchell Interchange in Milwaukee, afterWisDOT repeatedly assured neighborhood residents that the Milwaukee phase of the project wouldn't begin until the next decade? Could it possibly be that Busalacchi wants those shovels in the ground, the state fully committed to the project, before the non-attainment designation is officially announced?

Cause once that announcement comes, people might wonder why we're not trying to get cars off the road, instead of putting more of them on the road.

The state, by the way, fully aware that there are too many particulates entering too many lungs, is in absolutely no rush to do anything about it.

In that same single EIS paragraph:

If the designation changes from attainment to non-attainment, SEWRPC and the DNR will develop measures to control PM2.5 emissions in accordance with U.S. EPA guidelines so that the region will be in attainment by 2015.

And, in case you're wondering, here's a few things the EPA says PM2.5 exposure is associated with:

* Premature death in people with heart and lung disease
* Non-fatal heart attacks
* Increased hospital admissions, emergency room visits and doctor’s visits for respiratory diseases
* Increased hospital admission and ER visits for cardiovascular diseases
* Increased respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath
* Lung function changes, especially in children and people with lung diseases such as asthma
* Changes in heart rate variability
* Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
* Changes in subtle indicators of cardiovascular health, including levels of C-reactive protein and fibrinogen

Breathe on while you can.

Michael Horne, Ald. Robert Bauman, and Frank "Highway" Busalacchi

Michael Horne at MilwaukeeWorld succinctly and smartly analyzes why Gov. Jim Doyle and Secretary of Transportation Frank Doyle are so poorly serving the city in the transportation debate and why Ald. Robert Bauman deserves high praise.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WisDOT's secret public testimony

The only thing that surprised me about WisDOT's public sham hearing on the proposed unfunded I-94 North-South freeway project tonight was the "no entry" rule for the room where public testimony was being given. Yup, the public wasn't allowed to hear the public testimony at a public hearing.

There was a closed door with the word "Court Reporters" on a sign next to it. Since WisDOT said that court reporters would be on hand to take comments, I brilliantly deduced that somewhere behind that door, court r eporters would be on hand to take comments. I wanted to hear what was being said, so I opened the door. I saw a court reporter at a table or desk. Across from her was a man in a chair giving comments.

The site where secret public testimony was taken.

A WisDOT minion ran up to me and told me I could not go in the room

"You have to wait," she said.

I told her I wanted to go in. She said there was only one person allowed at a time. "No, you have to wait."

Bob Gutierrez, who gave the WisDOT sales job for freeway expansion that he passed off as an informational presentation, said later that the door could be left open if the individual testifying wanted others to listen what he/she said, and closed for anyone who wanted to give private testiomony at the public hearing.

Well, I said, does WisDOT have any way of knowing for individual testifiers whether the door should be opened or closed?

No, he said, but I could follow people as they prepared to speak and ask if I could come in and listen.

Two different responses from two different WisDOTters, neither whom seems to understand why the word "public" is in the phrase "public hearing."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hooray for the Common Council

The Common Common Council voted today to oppose expansion of I-94 North-South I-94. The vote was supposed to come next month -- the JS reported that Ald. Robert Bauman pulled the matter from committee so the city could get its comments in to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation by the close of the comment periods.

(WisDOT conveniently set the public comment period from the Friday before Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve, exactly over the holiday season, when the people's lives are harried and they are pre-occupied with things other than government agencies run amok.)

The measure calls for the state to forego freeway expansion -- it does not urge it to forego reconstruction and safety improvements -- in favor of mass transit development. The vote was 10-4. The JS says the council voted to oppose expansion south of the city, but Bauman's resolution opposes expansion south of the Mitchell Interchange, which includes a good stretch of freeway within the city as well.

And a reminder about the WisDOT-sponsored public hearing Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Best Western at 5105 S. Howell Ave. in Milwaukee. (It's not really a public hearing, but WisDOT thinks we're dumb enough to believe that this sham process is a public hearing.) First WisDOT gives a presentation on why its ideas for freeways are a good idea - people with different views are not scheduled to give presentations -- and then folks can submit written comments or recite them to a court reporter. Is that like any public hearing you've ever heard about?

If you're interested, the event is from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. If you're not interested, please don't forget to submit your comments to WisDOT by Dec. 31. You can do so by:

* calling the project hotline: (262) 548-8721
* e-mailing dotsefreeways94nsc@dot.state.wi.us
* faxing letters to (262) 548-5662
* or writing to to WisDOT: Attention Bob Gutierrez at P.O. Box 798 Waukesha, WI 53187-0798

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Indiana halts highway projects due to federal funding questions

Indiana's top officials aren't willing to put its residents' money at risk like Wisconsin's are. Indiana is delaying major road projects until the Federal Highway Trust Fund, now almost broke, is beefed up.

From WISH-TV in Indianapolis:

INDIANAPOLIS - Improvements for Interstate 69 between I-465 and Exit 10 may be further down the road than expected. Local officials say the Indiana Department of Transportation has pushed major reconstruction back perhaps as long as 13 years...

The project would be funded from the $3 billion Major Moves deal that leased the Indiana Toll Road to a French and Australian consortium. Approximately $530 million of Major Moves money is earmarked for highway improvements in Hamilton County. Now INDOT officials say matching federal dollars are needed to get the job done.

"The Major Moves plan and program ends in 2015," said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield. "The current projections call for the federal highway trust fund to dry up in 2011. It's really difficult to talk in definitive terms about things further than 2015."

Wingfield said INDOT will follow-up work north of I-69 and I-465 with additional projects as the budget picture becomes clearer. He added Congress will likely reauthorize highway funding during the next legislative session. Some projects could start sooner if funding becomes available, he added.

"That will give us a better picture, because obviously for an interstate, federal funding is a large part of what pays for those projects."

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, meanwhile, is charging ahead with plans for its unfunded $1.9 billion expansion project for North-South I-94 and and unfunded reconstruction Zoo Interchange project of unknown cost. Why should the Wisconsin Department of Transportation care if it puts huge financial burdens on state taxpayers? As long as the road-builders get paid, all is well.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

WisDOT's shell game

Yup. We're screwed.

WisDOT isn't even going to begin to talk about how to come up with the money for its $1.9 billion freeway expansion plan until after it is approved by the feds, according to the JS.

Gutierrez said the financing details would be worked out after the project receives federal approval and an estimate on the federal dollars available. At that time, the DOT will ask the Legislature to allocate the money necessary to complete the work by 2016.

In other words, this could be another "find the money as you go" WisDOT project. What's the impact on driver taxes and fees? What's the impact on the state's debt load? What's the impact on the state's credit rating? We don't know, because WisDOT doesn't tell us. It is simply bad planning.

In that same story, by the way, the JournalSentinel reported that Citizens Allied for Sane Highways criticized the lack of an invoice plan for the project. That is incorrect. We criticized the lack of a financing plan, not an invoicing plan.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Comments due Saturday: Governor's task force recommends fewer highway projects

The Governor's Task Force on Global Warming is recommending the state expand its travel options in order to reduce vehicle miles traveled. In other words, quit putting such a big share of the state transportation budget into roads.

("Global warming" is a phrase not mentioned in the state's environmental impact statement for its proposed unfunded $1.9 billion North-South I-94 expansion project.)

Says the Transportation Group's recommendation:

A recent study in the Seattle metro area estimated that even if new car mileage were increased to 94.5 mpg and the carbon content of fuels reduced by 40%, it would still require an 18% reduction in VMT to meet the region’s goal of cutting GHG from transportation by 80%. The magnitude of needed VMT reduction may be different in Wisconsin, but the principle is the same...

To combat global warming, transportation policy must focus instead on accessibility – facilitating access to destinations via compact development and varied modes of travel, as well as auto mobility. This effort will require considering land use and transportation together and a variety of other actions...

Fix it first: Wisconsin shall strengthen its fix-it-first policy on roadways to place a priority on rehabilitation of existing infrastructure over adding new lane-miles....

This multifaceted policy faces a variety of barriers. In general, it will be necessary to work cooperatively with local governments so that they agree to new rules in a field – local land use planning – that is traditionally a local issue. To this end, this policy should not pre-empt any local decision-making that does not affect the statewide goal of GHG reduction, and it should emphasize incentives to local governments and private entities as well as new requirements. Another barrier is institutional resistance to altering the paradigm that maximizing mobility (rather than accessibility) is the ultimate goal. This institutional inertia should not be underestimated, and must be addressed with strong leadership in all affected agencies.

There are many more recommendations from the Task Force's Transportation Work Group, along with an email link for public comments, here (scroll down on the page). Comments are due Saturday, Dec. 8. Hurry, time is running out!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Reasons to oppose the I-94 North-South expansion project

Public hearings on the proposed, unfunded $1.9 billion North-South I-94 expansion project start today. The hearing schedule, along with other ways to speak yer mind to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation about the draft environmental impact statement for the project, are at the bottom of this post. The deadline to submit your comments is Dec. 31.

First, though, we wanted to bring you some good reasons to oppose the project.

• WisDOT’s $1.9 billion cost estimate for the project includes a 3% annual inflation adjustment. Based on recent history, this is unrealistically low. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association reported in October that the cost of highway and street construction materials was up 6% from September 2006 to September 2007. "Over the last three years, annual highway and street construction material prices have increased nearly 32 percent," the association said.

• The environmental justice analysis is inadequate at best. The study suggests that minorities would benefit from the project because “the study-area freeway system connects Chicago to Milwaukee, both of which are ‘minority majority’ communities.” The reader can only guess at the supposed relevance of that. The study does not discuss how many minorities actually travel between those cities using the freeway, nor does it mention the scores of majority-white communities connected by North-South I-94. The EIS does not include available documentation regarding work commuting patterns, which would shed substantial light on the issues of who benefits from the expansion proposal and who does not.

• There is no funding plan for the project. Busalacchi said in announcing the plan that work will continue “to identify the funds needed to complete the project." The source of funds needs to be identified before the state commits to such enormous expenditures. State residents have a right to know how this will affect their taxes and transportation fees and the state’s financial outlook. They also have a right to know how a project that will absorb so many resources will affect other needed road and highway projects in the state. While state officials have said publicly several times that the Federal Highway Trust Fund could provide a significant share of the money for the project, that fund is projected to have a negative balance by 2009. We reported on this in March http://www.storyhill.net/IssuesFreeway65.htm and in June http://www.storyhill.net/IssuesFreeway67.htm

• The project would drain money desperately needed for mass transit in the Milwaukee region. The EIS discusses the state’s past contributions to transit systems, but does not directly address how this massive project would affect future transit funding.

• The EIS does not include adequate protections for students and staff at schools near the Interstate. Numerous studies show that traffic-generated particulates and pollution have adverse affects on health, particularly among children. A recent study shows that students attending schools within 500 meters of a freeway can suffer permanent lung damage. In Milwaukee, schools within 500 meters of the North-South freeway within the project area include Cooper, Garland, Lowell and Whittier elementary schools; Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory High School, IDEAL Charter School and Professional Learning Institute at the Sholes Educational Complex; St. Roman Parish; and Salam School. While WisDOT projects decreased pollution, the EIS does not consider the effects of any level of pollution on children’s health. WisDOT maintains only that it is not legally obligated to mitigate air pollution from the freeway.

• The project would have negative impacts on many threatened and endangered plant and animal species, including:
-- Butler’s garter snake
-- Eastern massasauga rattlesnake
-- Blanding’s turtle
-- Bluestem goldenrod
-- Seaside crowfoot
-- Reflexed trillium
-- Smooth black-haw
-- Alkali bulrush

• 53 to 56 acres of wetlands would be affected. Of the 128 wetlands that would be affected, 53 are in Milwaukee County, 28 are in Racine County, 39 are in Kenosha County and eight are in Lake County. The loss of an additional 26 acres is anticipated to accommodate reconstruction of I-94 interchanges in Racine and Kenosha counties. Mitigation plans are insufficiently addressed in the EIS.

• The EIS does not analyze or discuss potential light pollution from the project. This is a significant omission because homes and businesses – particularly those in Milwaukee -- would be nearer to the freeway.

• The EIS states that the preferred expansion alternative would increase impermeable surface associated with the freeway by 25% throughout the project area and about 50% in Milwaukee County. The EIS does not include plans to mitigate potential flooding and includes insufficient information about planned efforts to reduce polluted runoff from the freeway. The document suggests that WisDOT will rely on grass ditches in Milwaukee County to cleanse the runoff. (We do wonder how large a grassy ditch would have to be to cleanse the runoff from an expanded Mitchell interchange.)

• The EIS is silent on the impact of oil prices on construction costs, and is silent on the impact of oil prices on how much people drive.

You can read the EIS for yourself. It is at http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/projects/d2/i94/eis.htm

You can send comments about the eis by calling the project hotline at (262) 548-8721; e-mailing WisDOT at dotsefreeways94nsc@dot.state.wi.us; faxing letters to 262-548-5662; or sending them to WisDOT: Attention Bob Gutierrez at PO Box 798 Waukesha,

Here is the schedule for all four hearings

* Oak Creek/Franklin
Dec. 3, 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.
West Middle School
8401 13th St.
Oak Creek
Bus Routes: #15, #48

* Kenosha Area
Dec. 6, 5 p.m. -8 p.m.
Mahone Middle School
6900 60th St.
Kenosha
Bus Routes: #6, #3 North, #3 West, #5 South

* Racine Area
Dec. 11, 5 p.m. -8 p.m.
CATI Center
2320 Renaissance Blvd.
Sturtevant
Bus Route: #27

* Milwaukee
Dec. 12, 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Best Western Airport
5105 S. Howell Ave.
Milwaukee
Bus Routes: #80, #11

Friday, November 30, 2007

WisDOT spreads holiday cheer by scheduling public comment period over holidays

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has scheduled the public comment period for its proposed unfunded $1.9 billion I-94 North-South reconstruction and expansion project to open and close precisely with the holiday season, that period when people are most likely to be distracted by other things.

Think that was an accident?

WisDOT released the 367-page draft environmental impact statement on Friday, Nov. 16 and opened the public comment period on the same day. The next week was the week of Thanksgiving -- the official kickoff of the holiday season, when people are busy, busy, busy and on the go, go, go.

When does the WisDOT public comment period close? What a coincidence -- on Dec. 31, New Year's Eve! Yup, the end of the holiday season and the end of all those distractions. The city of Milwaukee has received WisDOT's blessings to get its input after the holidays, to give the Common Council time to consider Ald. Bob Bauman's proposal to forego expansion in favor of transit.

To the rest of us, though, WisDOT's holiday gift is a big stocking stuffed full of bad faith and billions in bills it wants us to pay. Somehow. In a manner not quite decided.

There are public hearings scheduled (during the holiday season) on the EIS as listed below. We also have asked WisDOT just where people who want to do so are supposed to mail, email, or fax their comments. We think it is to the folks listed here, though it isn't really clear. The EIS says comments should be sent to Roberto Guttierrez, who is listed as the project manager in the document. Adrian Lopez is listed as the project manager on the NS project webste. The website has Lopez' email address, but not Guttierrez's.

More confusion by WisDOT. How surprising. We'll clarify when we get the info from our friends at WisDOT.

The agency has also scheduled public hearings at the following locations and times:

* Oak Creek/Franklin
December 3, 4-8 p.m.
West Middle School
8401 13th St.
Oak Creek
Bus Routes: #15, #48

* Kenosha area
December 6, 5-8 p.m.
Mahone Middle School
6900 60th St.
Kenosha
Bus Routes: #6, #3 North, #3 West, #5 South

* Racine area
December 11, 5-8 p.m.
CATI Center
2320 Renaissance Blvd.
Sturtevant
Bus Route: #27

* Milwaukee
December 12, 4-8 p.m.
Best Western Airport
5105 S. Howell Ave.
Milwaukee
Bus Routes: #80, #11

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Barrett supports Bauman's transit-not-expansion plan

Mayor Tom Barrett's administration supports Ald. Bob Bauman's resolution calling for the state to forego expanding North-South I-94 and instead fund the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail extension and high-speed rail development.

Public Works Commissioner Jeff Mantes told Bauman during Wednesday's meeting of the Common Council's Public Works Committee that the administration backs the proposal.

The committee won't vote on the measure until next month. The proposal did pick up three new sponsors besides the already-announced Bauman and Ald. Michael "Short-timer" D'Amato. Aldermen Bob Donovan, Michael Murphy and Willie Wade also have signed on.

Debt bad, but bring on that $1.9 billion unfunded freeway project

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thinks expanding I-94 North-South from the Illinois-Wisconsin state line to about Holt Ave. and I-894 from I-94 to 35th St. is a great idea. In its editorial saying that, the JS did not question how this $1.9 billion project would be funded, or how much more debt the state would incur to pave over wetlands and dump millions of gallons more of polluted runoff into our waterways so folks could save a few minutes drive time, during rush hour, in the year 2035.

The JS didn't blink a newspapery eye at Secretary of Transportation Frank Busalacchi's statement that he wanted the feds to kick in about half the cost of the project, even though the Federal Highway Trust Fund is projected to start running negative balances in 2009.

Today, however, the paper's editorial board declares that the state is headed "in the wrong direction" with its ever-growing debt burden.

News flash for the editorial board: massive highway projects and state debt are related. When the former is approved, the latter increases. It's just the way it is.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Funny that WisDOT doesn't mention oil prices

The Environmental Impact Statement for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's $1.9 billion plan to reconstruct North-South I-94 doesn't discuss oil prices. At all.

It is silent on the impact of oil prices on construction costs, and is silent on the impact of oil prices on how much people drive.

This is such a basic subject these days, and WisDOT does worse than flunk it -- WisDOT doesn't even show up for class.

Meanwhile, we have this piece of news from the San Diegeo Union:

LONDON – Analysts sharply raised their average forecasts for oil prices next year to a record near $74 a barrel on expectations for a cold winter season, a weakening dollar and an influx of fund money, a Reuters poll showed on Monday.

The monthly survey of 37 analysts put the consensus forecast for U.S. crude futures (CLc1) in 2008 at a record average of $74.43 a barrel, up $3.94 from last month's poll. The average price for oil so far this year is $70.20.

“Our oil price scenario assumes a rise in the average price of oil to $100 at the peak of the winter season and a correction from March into spring,” said Harry Tchilinguirian, senior analyst at BNP Paribas Commodity Derivatives.

“Weather is a key caveat, but we assume that cold weather will trump a U.S. economic slowdown as the market's overriding concern,” he added.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ald. Bauman gets it

Ald. Robert Bauman is proposing that the state skip expanding I-94 North-South and concentrate on developing the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail extension and high-speed rail instead.

Details here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Traffic noise and heart disease linked in study

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is proposing to build a bigger, noisier North-South I-94 closer to Milwaukee homes. From The Montreal Gazette:

A landmark study that followed 27,000 sawmill workers in British Columbia over a 45-year period shows a direct link between occupational noise measured at 85 decibels or higher, and heart disease.

But scientists have noted similar effects at 65 decibels or lower - levels that are considered safe - from a steady stream of noise at home or at work, like the din of traffic or construction, or the bustle of a busy office. (Emphasis mine)

"Increasing noise exposure means increasing heart attacks - fatal heart attacks. There are consistent (study) results showing this association," the study's lead author, Hugh W. Davies of the University of British Columbia, said at a public health conference held in Montreal.

"We've done little to reduce noise at work. Instead, we give people earplugs." But earplugs aren't effective against heart disease, he said.

"There's no economic pressure to reduce noise in the workplace. And from a safety point of view ... there's the old saying, 'Ears don't bleed.' " Noise can increase the levels of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenalin in the body, even during sleep.

The greater the exposure to noise, the greater the stress levels that can lead to heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure and immune-system problems.

The noise of modern life could be to blame for thousands of deaths from coronary heart disease, Davies said.

New data from the World Health Organization also show that chronic noise exposure, including to daytime traffic, triggers heart disease.

"The Europeans are way ahead of of us" in dealing with noise as a major public health issue, Davies said.

The European Union issued a directive this year requiring European cities with populations exceeding 250,000 to create digital noise maps depicting areas of highest traffic noise and volume.

Such maps are tools for planners of homes, hospitals and schools, as well as for people seeking to live away from busy intersections, truck stops or flight patterns.

Friday, November 23, 2007

RTA's funding delay and "life support" for county transit

It seems almost certain that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority will delay its pursuit of Federal Transit Administration funding for a Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail extension.

The delay will be at least a year, maybe two.

RTA members made it clear this week that they also will pay more attention to finding a solution to the mass transit funding crisis in Milwaukee County and the region as a whole.

Milwaukee County Public Works Director George Torres said the Milwaukee County Transit System needs help immediately.

“We are on life support right now and we have to find a solution sooner rather than later," he said. “Two years out might be too late."

Two years out -- that's about the time the Wisconsin Department of Transportation wants to start its $1.9 billion freeway reconstruction project that won't solve congestion problems, but may, on the very optimistic side, save drivers a minute or two in drive time, during rush hour, in the year 2035.

RTA consultant Barbara Ulichny told the committee that the people deciding where Miller Brewing headquarters should be – Milwaukee or Denver – took a good look at mass transit.

“From what I’ve heard, there’s not really a comparison as to the availability of different types,” she said.

What a concept: business leaders want a balanced transportation system. Too bad WisDOT doesn’t – it looks like the agency’s stubborn refusal to move out of the 1960s may well help lose this city a major corporate headquarters.

Transit can't wait two years.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

You need to see this



Dr. Laura Anderko is an associate professor of nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is a Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow (which is a very big deal).

Her areas of expertise include public health nursing, environmental health nursing, cultural diversity and health
nursing centers, health policy and social determinants in health.

You can learn more about her here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

You're kidding! Oil rose again!!??

Oil hit a new high on Tuesday -- closing at more than 98 bucks a barrel. Let's close our eyes really, really tight and wish upon a star really, really hard that nothing will change and there will never be an end to the oil or money and WisDOT can continue to pay off road builders for their enormous political contributions.

Gas prices were discussed at yesterday's Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority meeting. Somebody mentioned that gas was 80 cents a gallon more than a year ago, and the consensus was that the price isn't coming down.

Notably silent were the folks from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, which infamously famously predicted a year or so ago that gas prices would remain at the2005 equivaent of $2.30 a gallon to the year 2035.

If that were the case, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline today would be $2.46, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' inflation calculator. If you are aware of somewhere in Milwaukee where gas is being sold at that price, please let us know.

And, in case you were wondering, WisDOT is indeed basing its proposal to expand North-South I-94 partly on that SEWRPC study, as well as the SEWRPC freeway study that included a road builder lobbyist on its oversight committee.

Freeway plan increases runoff, Milwaukee County hit hardest

The proposed $1.9 billion I-94 north-south expansion project would increase paved-over freeway land in the corridor by almost almost 50% in Milwaukee County, according to the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

The amount of impervious I-94 freeway land would increase from 10.3 million square feet to 15.4 million square feet, a 49.7% increase, according to the EIS.

That is more than the combined pavement increases in Racine and Kenosha counties in Wisconsin and Lake County in Illinois, the other counties affected by the proposed expansion project.

"The amount of storm water runoff is expected to increase proportionately to the increase in impervious surface (that is, pavement)" according to the EIS.

The project overall would increase freeway-related pavement from 37 million square feet to 46.4 million square feet, a 25.4% increase.

Some of the Milwaukee County land to be filled -- about 174,000 square feet -- is floodplain, or land that is susceptible to flooding. Increasing the amount of land that cannot absorb water raises flooding risks.

Runoff from the hard surfaces of freeways is generally highly contaminated.

Chemical pollutants from cars can poison water, vegetation and associated aquatic life.

The document does not specify any steps the state would take to reduce pollution from the increased runoff. It states only that "best practices" are under consideration that would decrease pollution from current levels.

It also does not specify any steps the state would take to reduce potential flooding.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is involved in major, expensive flood control and water quality efforts in the Milwaukee area. MMSD spokesman Bill Graffin said district officials say WisDOT has not been in touch with them about the North-South project.