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.
Bus Routes: #6, #3 North, #3 West, #5 South

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

* Milwaukee
December 12, 4-8 p.m.
Best Western Airport
5105 S. Howell Ave.
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.