Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sign on for a clean stimulus bill

Bloomberg reports that most states plan to spend transportation money from the expected stimulus bill on roads and more roads.

While many states are keeping their project lists secret, plans that have surfaced show why environmentalists and some development experts say much of the stimulus spending may promote urban sprawl while scrimping on more green-friendly rail and mass transit.

“It’s a lot of more of the same,” said Robert Puentes, a metropolitan growth and development expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington who is tracking the legislation. “You build a lot of new highways, continue to decentralize” urban and suburban communities and “pull resources away from transit.”

There is something you can do to prevent this country from drowning in a muck of freshly-poured concrete -- sign on to the Friends of the Earth "Keep the Economic Stimus Plan Clean" petition. It's easy. Click here for details and to sign on.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Resolution would support I-94 civil rights complaint

Ald. Robert Bauman this week introduced a resolution seeking Common Council support of the civil rights complaint the ACLU filed over the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's inadquate planning for and analysis of the planned North-South I-94 reconstruction and expansion project.

The resolution reads in part:

The Common Council finds that the City of Milwaukee and its residents and taxpayers would not benefit from – and would in fact be harmed by – WisDOT’s plans to add lanes to Interstate 94 south of the Mitchell Interchange, construct an interchange at Drexel Avenue and reduce interstate highway access at the 27th Street/Interstate 894 interchange...

The Common Council adopted...a resolution expressing the City’s opposition to the proposed reconstruction and expansion of Interstate 94 and its support for a new strategic approach to transportation investments in Southeastern Wisconsin; and...

In a recently-completed audit of the City’s residential street paving program, the City Comptroller found that over one-fifth of Milwaukee’s residential streets are in poor condition and that the cost of bringing all residential streets up to fair or good condition could be as much as $780 million over the next 25 years; andWhereas, It is fundamentally unjust for the federal governmental to saddle local property taxpayers with the burden of paying for repairs to existing local streets while at the same time funding the reconstruction and expansion of Interstate highways;

The City of Milwaukee supports the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin’s complaint against the Wisconsin Department of Transportation relating to the reconstruction and expansion of Interstate 94, which was filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation....

Good news: Drexel Ave. interchange likely dead

The Drexel Ave. interchange, which was supposed to be part of the North-South I-94 reconstruction project, may well be dead, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

If that is true it is good news. Even the Wisconsin Department of Transportation says the interchange could well harm the city of Milwaukee. It's not a certainty that a stake has been driven through the heart of this particular bad idea, though. WisDOT has been pushing for the interchange and there is all that federal stimulus money allegedly on the way that could help pay for it.

Reports that Oak Creek (and neighboring Franklin) were reluctant to kick in for the project have been circulating for a while now. We asked WisDOT last week what would happen if the communities declined to share in the cost, but WisDOT has yet to respond. There is a clue in the JS story, though: "The DOT has said that if there is a commitment to the $7.6 million in local money, it would consider putting the interchange back into the project."

The apparent / maybe death of the interchange also boosts Milwaukee Ald. Robert Bauman's argument that local government should share in the costs of highway projects within their borders. It's a good way to measure just how badly a community really wants something -- is it willing to help pay for something that it is happy to take for free?

Frank Busalacchi: which one will show up today?

The New York Times reports that Frank Busalacchi is supporting the "fix it first" ethose for any stimulus bill highway spending that may come along. Frank's endorsement of that very sane policy is a laugher, given his advocacy for new, bigger and totally unnecessary projects during his tenure as Wisconsin secretary of transportation.

Here are excerpts from a letter that Frank signed, along with many others, setting desireable criteria for infrastructure spending. The choice is ours: should we laugh or gag?

I. FIX: To immediately create jobs and stimulate economic growth we need to “fix it first,” that is, invest in the repair and maintenance of the country’s deteriorated bridges, roads, public transit, passenger & freight rail, electric grids and other essential infrastructure components that have been neglected for decades.

III. GREEN: Priority should be given to projects that foster energy independence, safeguard the environment, promote healthy & compact communities, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

V. COUNT: Funding must be set aside to measure and analyze the results of these federal investments and their outcomes: job creation, cost-effectiveness, greenhouse gas reductions, increased energy efficiency, etc.

If America is to remain economically competitive, we cannot afford “business as usual” when it comes to infrastructure investments. Therefore, a new federal oversight committee is required to both streamline the investment process and also establish accountability.

We propose creating a National Recovery and Renewal Council, comprised of representatives from federal, state, and city agencies, as well as the private sector. The Council would report directly to the White House, charged with eliminating the red tape in implementing projects, as well as developing criteria and accountability measures that will guarantee that America meets its infrastructure goals, from energy independence to reduced carbon emissions to increased mobility.

About that accountability and oversight? Frank was not so hot on it just last week. Just give us the money, he said. This is what he told the National Journal -- Transportation blog.

The quickest and fairest way to distribute stimulus funds for transportation projects would be through the existing federal formulas. Where formulas do not exist, it may be appropriate to distribute the funds to state departments of transportation based on the percentage of obligation authority provided to each state in the last federal transportation appropria­tions bill. These methods were proposed in the House and Senate stimulus bills. The state transport­ation departments are in the best position to administer the funds and to prioritize the projects that are in already their transportation plans.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

1% boost requested for major highway projects

Funding for major highway projects would increase $9.7 million over the next two years, under the State Department of Transportation's budget request.

The department also is seeking authority to circumvent the Transportation Projects Commission for many major highway projects.

Major highway funding would increase from $322.8 million this fiscal year to $326 million in 2010 and $329.3 million in 2011, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

A major highway project is defined in state law as a project that involves reconstructing or reconditioning an existing highway or constructing a new highway when total project cost exceeds $5 million and involves one or more of the following: 1) constructing a new highway 2.5 miles or more in length; 2) relocating 2.5 miles or more of an existing highway; 3) adding one or more lanes, 5 miles or more to an existing highway; or 4) improving 10 miles or more of an existing multi-lane divided highway to freeway standards.

The definition does not include freeway reconstruction or expansion in southeastern Wisconsin, which have their own statutory definition under state law.

WisDOT is seeking to change the definition of a major highway project. The new definition would, according to the LFB, (a) increase the minimum cost threshold for capacity expansion projects from $5,000,000 to $25,000,000; and (b) include any project that does not otherwise meet the capacity expansion thresholds in the definition of a major highway development project if the project has an estimated cost of at least $75,000,000.

Under the requested changes, the Department would not need to seek the approval of the Transportation Projects Commission prior to beginning an environmental impact statement (EIS) or environmental assessment (EA) on projects that do not meet the existing capacity expansion thresholds in the existing definition, but that may cost at least $75,000,000. For these projects, an EIS or EA would need to be completed to determine if the estimated cost exceeds $75,000,000.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ald. Bauman calls for more local road aid

Ald. Robert Bauman understands priorities.

Gov. Doyle ought to pay attention.

Bauman issued the following statement today:

Fixing local streets and roads would positively benefit many more Milwaukee and state residents than expanding I-94 during the rebuild between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line, so why does Governor Doyle have the I-94 project at the top of his list for federal infrastructure aid?

“He (Governor) obviously didn’t ask for input from anyone on the Common Council when he was drafting his list of projects,” said Ald. Robert J. Bauman, chair of the Common Council’s Public Works Committee.

“As a body we’re (Council) on record clearly stating that local street repair needs should come first, and that we should not be expanding highway capacity in southeast Wisconsin until we fix our existing roads, streets and bridges,” he said.

Today Governor Doyle released 22 pages of potential Wisconsin infrastructure projects to be considered for federal funding under the administration of President-elect Barack Obama. The president-elect has said he plans on making massive investments in improving the nation’s infrastructure, even dwarfing the 1950s projects that launched the federal highway system into the modern era.

The dire situation facing Milwaukee’s streets and bridges is outlined in a Comptroller’s Office audit report of the residential street paving program, which was released earlier this week. Ald. Bauman said one of the report’s key findings is that in order for the city to replace the roads identified as in need of “immediate replacement,” it would take 36 years to do so at the current rate of budgetary allocation for roadway replacement. The report states that 214 miles (approx. 20% of the city’s streets) are in “poor” condition and require “immediate replacement.”

Ald. Bauman said the audit report indicates “options” to eliminate the city’s street maintenance backlog involving recommended spending at levels of up to $40 million per year – dwarfing the approximate $6 million-plus the city has typically spent during the past several years. Also, he said the audit shows the replacement cycle has now narrowed to 106 years – down from 162 years as recently as 2005.

“We face huge challenges, and to put the expansion of I-94 at the top of the ‘needs’ list is, to me, a nod to the road builders and a slap to the average taxpayer in southeastern Wisconsin,” he said.

Freeways and funding -- guest post by Paul Trotter

A few hours after one of our snow storms was over I came upon these fine examples of the public transportation available to us in Milwaukee County. As you can see, there is blatant disregard for those who need to or choose to take the bus. It is unconscionable that we ignore the poor and spend billions on making a few more lanes so that we can travel a little faster to and from Illinois. Perhaps the DOT's best efforts at recognizing the poor in our city are the Marquette Interchange murals depicting stuggles to navigate the underground railroad. The underground railroad was a path that carried American slaves to freedom in the 1800s. I challenge Mr. Busalacchi and Mr. Walker to find a means to transport our poor efficiently, reliably and safely to plentiful jobs and prosperity out of our segregated city. Our poor are trapped by your short sighted vision that relies on the automobile for transportation.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

ACLU files civil rights complaint over I-94 project

The American Civil Liberties Union filed with the US Department of Transportation Wednesday a civil rights complaint seeking to halt expansion of North-South I-94. The press release from ACLU is below. You can read the entire complaint here.

The ACLU of Wisconsin today requested a federal investigation of the Wisconsin Department ofTransportation for violating civil rights laws when it decided to expand I-94.

In a complaint filed with Offices for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration, the ACLU objected to WisDOT’s plans to widen I-94, build a new interchange at Drexel Ave., and close much of the interchange at 27th St. and I-894.

TheACLU is requesting that the government investigate WisDOT, stop the widening of I-94, and prevent construction of the Drexel Interchange - especially if the 27th St. Interchange is closed.

“WisDOT’s own environmental impact statement shows that building the Drexel Interchange is likely to hurt development in the city of Milwaukee - the state’s only majority-minority city -while it helps development in non-diverse suburbs,” noted Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Rotker added that the disparities will worsen with closure of the 27th St. Interchange. “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act makes it clear that agencies can’t take actions that have a discriminatory effect on communities of color - even if the discrimination isn’tintentional.”

There are similar problems with spending hundreds of millions of dollars to add lanes to I-94, added ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “WisDOT has said adding the lanes is going to have only a minimal effect on travel times - and that not adding lanes could increase the market for development closer to downtown Milwaukee, thus helping city residents,most of whom are persons of color.”

WisDOT, however, rejected that approach. The ACLU complaint also asserts that expanding highways without moving forward on public transportation projects has a discriminatory effect on communities of color, who are disproportionately dependent on public transit.

“In a time of limited resources, WisDOT needs to ensure that it isn’t increasing the disparities between those with access to cars and transit dependent persons. But that’s what this plan does. Instead, WisDOT needs to ensure that a fair share of the benefits of its transportation programs are going to communities of color - who willbe much more likely to benefit from increased transit access than from the bigger highway WisDOT wants to build.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Marquette Interchange -- just pocket change

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation's combined 2009-11 budget request for the North-South I-94 and Zoo Interchange reconstruction projects totals is almost as much as the entire $810 million cost of building the Marquette Interchange, records show.

The $766 million combined I-94/Zoo request -- which essentially are just start-up costs -- is a cool 95% of the Marquette price tag.

Get out your wallets, everybody. WisDOT is asking Wisconsin taxpayers to commit $195 million to the Zoo Interchange even though there is no design and no payment plan -- there is not even an environmental impact statement.

The money, WisDOT says, will be used "for design, real estate, and utilities," according to the budget request. "Design activities include the development of plans for anticipated improvements needed for traffic mitigation routes as well as formal plans for the first leg of the project once a preferred alternative has been selected. Utility work would include the relocation of electrical, water, sewer, and other utility lines needed to accommodate the reconstruction effort."

As for the North-South I-94 project, WisDOT is pushing forward with unneeded, unwanted freeway expansion in Milwaukee. The $571 million the department wants to spend on the project over the next two years includes $285 million in borrowing.

And remember the Hoan Bridge? WisDOT's records show it needs some fairly expensive work in the not-so-distant (2010 to 2013) future, and there has been much discussion about rebuilding it. The Hoan happens to not be mentioned at all in the 2009-11 budget request, setting taxpayers up for a really nasty surprise when they are asked in a few years to shell out for the continuing costs of the Zoo Interchange, I-94 North-South and the Hoan. These simultaneous projects will be more expensive than necessary because the state will be competing against itself for equipment and talent; they also will make getting around town via the freeway next to impossible because of traffic tie-ups and key interchanges.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

WisDOT requests 3% transit aid hike

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is requesting a 3% increase in transit aid for the next biennium, the largest it has sought in several years, but still a pretty cheesy increase compared to the new money WisDOT wants to spend on unneeded highway expansion in the area (more on this later).

WisDOT's request would increase Milwaukee County Transit System assistance by $1.6 million, to $67.3 million in FY10; and an additional $2 million in FY11.

In its request, WisDOT laid out its rationale:

With the high price of fuel, increasing highway congestion, and increasing environmental concerns, transit ridership in Wisconsin and the nation are at an all-time high. One notable exception is Milwaukee County which has cut service and increased fares. Even with record ridership, demand for transit services still outpaces availability as costs, mostly due to fuel costs, have increased at a much faster rate than general inflation and funding. Transit providers have been faced with reducing and discontinuing service, increasing fares, increasing local taxes, and, in many cases, have not been able to implement much-needed new services. The inability of funding to keep pace with costs has also prevented the establishment of new transit services in areas where they have not existed in the past, despite high demand. For these reasons, the requested percentage increase for transit operating aids is higher than what is being requested for most other programs.

In CY 08, the program provided an average of 36.5% of operating costs. While this represented a slight increase from 35.9% in CY 07, it has been decreasing steadily from 37.4% in CY 06, 38% in CY 05, and 39.2% in CY 04. In addition, these percentages do not take into consideration reductions in service, discontinued service, and increased local taxes that have resulted due to funding increases not keeping pace with costs.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Local roads will get worse under WisDOT budget proposal

Expect more potholes in your future because the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is requesting a one percent increase in local road assistance for municipalities and counties.

One percent! That's a boost of $4.3 million statewide out of a requested $397.1 million increase in the state transportation budget. General Transportation Aid funding would be $413.8 million in FY10 and $418.0 million in FY11 for municipalities and counties to help pay for construction, maintenance and operations of local roads. The cost of the materials to build and maintain those roads, meanwhile, has soared.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association said last month that "the cost of highway and street construction materials was up 22.2 percent in September 2008 compared to the same month last year. During the same time period, inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, was 4.9 percent. Over the last five years, between 2003 and 2008, the price of highway and street construction materials has risen 76.5 percent."

My oh my. That one percent increase in local aids WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi wants to dole out won't go very far for cash-strapped, levy-limited local units of government. Yet WisDOT is charging ahead with its foolish plans for unneeded, unwelcome freeway expansion in Milwaukee.

Way to set priorities, Mr. Busalacchi.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gluttony on the roads

Wow, the state is facing an estimated $5 billion deficit and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is seeking a 7.25%, or $397.1 million, budget increase over the next biennium, according to WisDOT's budget request. The agency budget would total $5.9 billion.

WisDOT also is projecting no increase in federal funding.

So who is picking up the tab for unneeded, unwanted freeway expansion? Wisconsin folk and, if WisDOT has its way, oil companies.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

SEWRPC cowers, intimidated by the public

Unbelievably craven.

That's our SEWRPC.

Every four years, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission must be recertified by the Federal Highway Administration. Four years ago, during the recertification process public hearing, SEWRPC was spanked repeatedly by public officials and regular citizens for its high-handed, conflict-ridden ways of doing business.

So how to respond? It's obvious! Get rid of the public hearing!

The public is invited to a recertification event on Oct. 22, but there will be no public hearing. There will be a dog and pony show, though.

The FHWA's Dwight McComb, a strong SEWRPC ally and a federal official that SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson described as one of his agency's "best friends," said Wednesday that members of the public might be just too intimidated to testify in public, so were being given the opportunity to testify in private to a court reporter. Members of the public can also talk to ---SEWRPC officials!

He also said, though, that he did not know of any members of the public expressing an opinion one way or another about how the public participation portion of the recertification process should go, so how he came to the conclusion that members of the public may have been intimidated last time around is beyond me. He certainly didn't include it in the report he issued at the conclusion of that process.

McComb said officials were considering alternating public participation methods between the public hearing method and the whispered testimony to court reporters, so that a public heairng would be held only every eight years! When I asked him if this same alternating process would apply to similar recertification processes around the state, he said he did not know.

What?! People in other parts of the state don't have the same concerns about testifying in public? Or maybe it's really that other planning agencies aren't as worried about what other members of the public will say?

Oh, by the way, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation will have a table at the SEWRPC recertification gladfest, as will the transit system.

CASH, along with a number of other groups, is urging members of the public to participate in the recertification process, despite its severe shortcomings.

Here is our action alert.


Make Your Voice Heard on Decisions Impacting Quality of Life, Mass Transit, Asthma Rates, Affordable Housing, Job Growth, and More

ACTION ALERT: On October 22, 2008, come join a coalition of individuals and groups to challenge the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission’s (SEWRPC) recertification as the recognized Metropolitan Planning Organization for the region.

"We said this four years ago, and unfortunately we have to say it again - SEWRPC hasn’t lived up to either its ethical or legal obligations to represent the interests of all residents of our community," said Karyn Rotker, Senior Staff Attorney for ACLU-WI.

Every four years, the federal government has to certify that a Metropolitan Planning Organization is following federal laws and requirements, including civil rights and environmental justice requirements. SEWRPC is up for recertification this year. The U.S. Department of Transportation will have a public meeting where YOU can provide written or spoken comments.

As the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, SEWRPC makes recommendations about transportation planning. These transportation projects impact priorities for government funding, how healthy our air is, where housing is developed, job growth, the availability of mass transit, the supply of and potential movement of water outside the Great Lakes Basin, and much more. The agency, however, often has ignored the concerns of minority and low-income residents of Milwaukee. For example, SEWRPC has yet to conduct a regional housing study - something it promised in 2005 to do. It has denied requests from groups representing low income and minority communities to participate on advisory task forces. It rejected the requests of its own Environmental Justice Task Force to seek a diverse and inclusive pool of candidates to fill its Executive Director and Assistant Director positions.

WHAT: Public Meeting on SEWRPC’s Certification as Metro Planning Organization
WHERE: Downtown Transit Center, Harbor Lights Room, 909 E. Michigan Ave. Milwaukee
WHEN: October 22, 2008 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Jursik wants study of longer I-794

You knew this one had to be coming. County Supervisor Patricia Jursik is calling on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to study the possibility of ending I-794 at Ryan Road in Oak Creek.

Jursik made her request after the State Department of Transportation said lowering the Hoan Bridge and reducing I-794 to a four-lane boulevard could lead to billions in new development.

“We ask Transportation Secretary Busalacchi to spend another $175,000 to fund this study, the same amount he paid for the bridge-for-sale ad," she said in a press release. "In response to a request from South Milwaukee Mayor Tom Zepecki, my office asked the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) to develop the footprint for the extension of 794 to Ryan Road. I have received this map and now call on the Department of Transportation to discontinue studies on demolition of the bridge and instead begin to fund the completion of this South Shore asset.”

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hoan rehab: $100 million plus

Redecking and painting the Hoan Bridge would cost more than $100 million, according to a State Department of Transportation issue paper.

Major work is needed, though, WisDOT said in a 2007 report.

"Delamination on many east and westbound units of the Hoan Bridge has already crossed or is nearing the threshold requiring deck replacement," WisDOT said in issue paper dated June 2007. "The entire structure also appears to be well beyond thresholds for chloride contamination that is evident by the delamination occurring on the underside of the deck."

Delamination basically is separation of the concrete from the supporting structure.

"If the deck is not replaced ride quality will continue to deteriorate and maintenance repairs will be frequent if not continuous," the paper said. "In addition, full depth features are likely to fall off the edge and bottom of the deck along with the edge of the parapets."

Deck replacement on the westbound portion of the bridge would cost an estimated $38.1 million; deck replacement on the eastbound portion would cost an estimated $37.1 million. Painting the bridge after the deck replacement would cost $28 million, according to the document.

Highway construction costs have risen significantly since the paper was issued, but it's not known yet what kind of impact the current economic crisis will have on future project costs.

"Funding for the Hoan Bridge Rehabilitation is critical since costs are significant," said the issue paper, obtained through an open records request. It is one of two documents released by the Department of Transportation regarding potential reconstruction of the bridge.

The paper said the deck replacements would be done in 2011 and 2012, which make the project concurrent with both the I-94 North-South reconstruction projection and the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project.

The paper is one of only two documents WisDOT released in response to request for all records related to the possible reconstruction or replacement of the Hoan Bridge. The other document released was a draft report by the HNTB consulting firm outlining an alternative plan to lower the bridge and replace I-794 with a four-lane boulevard.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Driving down again in July

From Reuters -- is WisDOT listening?

Motorists on U.S. roads applied the brakes hard on driving when gasoline prices peaked over the summer at more than $4 per gallon, according to the latest government figures released on Tuesday.

Americans, she said, drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in July than they did a year earlier. Transit ridership, in contrast, was up 11%.

The 3.6 percent year-over-year decline in miles traveled on all roads in July cemented a downward trend begun nine months ago in response to rising pump prices and economic weakness.

While the June drop was 5 percent, the July drop was still sharp and may be more illustrative of consumer habits and concerns about the economy. July is a usually heavy driving period marked by traditional summer vacations and the Independence Day holiday.

"The decline means Americans are consuming less fuel and emitting less CO2 (tailpipe emissions), which is a positive development," Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said in an interview with Reuters. "But it is a challenge to how we fund transportation today."

The miles traveled figure is an informal economic reference for policymakers who sought to make the best of another bad number by touting rising transit figures. The drop in driving heightened concerns about how to pay for road and rail projects, since those employment-creating priorities are financed mainly by gasoline taxes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

That other bailout

Congress this month bailed out the Federal Highway Trust Fund to the tune of $8 billion, putting a lot of road projects back on track. The funds were transferred from FHWA's administrative accounts to the Trust Fund.

The Bush administration opposed the rescue before it supported it.

From the Puget Sound Business Journal:

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters praised Congress for acting quickly "to protect states from the pain of a funding shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund."

But, she added, "the fundamental funding flaws that plague the nation's transportation system will continue to wreak havoc if left unfixed."

Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, agreed, calling the transfer of funds a "short-term fix."

"Congress must develop a long-term solution when reauthorizing the surface transportation law next year," Josten said. "Every funding option must be on the table."

Federal gasoline taxes currently provide revenue for the fund. Gas tax receipts fell in recent months as Americans curtailed their driving in response to high prices at the pump.

So $700 billion or more for financial institutions and increased taxes, in one way or another, for highways. Something to look forward to.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Other states slowing down in light of federal funding problems

Arizona is putting as much as $171 million in new federally-funded highway projects on hold because of the uncertainty that the federal funds will be available.

Arkansas is delaying taking bids on a $24 million project to rebuild an I-40 interchange for the same reason. According to KFSM-TV:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters says her agency would delay and even cut back payments for state road and bridge construction nationwide because the federal Highway Trust Fund had been depleted. The federal government typically covers 80% of the costs of a project on all highways.

Wisconsin seems ready to rush forward with its $1.9 billion North-South I-94 boondoggle. Who's going to foot the bill if the federal money isn't there?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The federal highway fund is broke

The Federal Highway Trust Fund is officially broke. President Bush wants an $8 billion bailout, but that money won't last long.

Wisconsin wants to spend $1.9 billion on reconstructing and needlessly expanding North-South I-94. State records show that the overwhelming majority of citizens who participated in the public input process opposed the expansion, but the state pushed ahead with it anyway. State records also show that the public input process was a bit of a sham, and that a WisDOT was consultant was drafting the document giving the federal go-ahead for the project even before the second of two public comment periods began.

We now have a situation of insufficient need for an expanded freeway, coupled with insufficient funding and a basically fraudulent public participation process. So why is this project moving forward?

Friday, September 5, 2008

I-94: Approval doc drafted before citizen comment period began

Highway officials were busy drafting the official document that would give the go-ahead to a $1.9 billion proposal to expand North-South I-94 even before the second public comment period on the proposal even began, state records show.

A WisDOT consultant sent a draft of the document, the Record of Decision, on March 26, one day after FHWA signed off on the Final Environmental Impact Statement and well in advance of the 30-day public comment period began April 5.

"Jay---attached is the signed FEIS cover sheet," consultant Charlie Webb, of CH2M Hill, wrote to WisDOT's Jay Waldschmidt. "The EIS will be sent to the Federal Register today for NOI publication on April 4. Comment period will end May 5. Also attached is the draft Record of Decision for your review."

NOI stands for "Notice of Intent."

It is unclear who actually wrote the draft. The properties box on the Word version document indicates it was created on March 24, just two days before it was sent to WisDOT by CH2M Hill.

From the draft:

The selected alternative is to widen I-94 to eight lanes in the study area (Safety and Design Improvements with Added Capacity Alternative). The selected alternative provides the best balance among sound engineering design, addressing long-term travel demand and safety, and minimizing overall social, economic, and natural resource impacts.

Selection was based on evaluation and consideration of all comments received during the public involvement process, public hearing testimony and other public comments received during the EIS availability period, comments received from state and federal review agencies, environmental and engineering factors, consistency with local and regional transportation/land use plans, and documentation on how the proposed improvements will address long-term traffic and safety needs.

The draft Record of Decision had blank pages where comments second public comment period could be listed. The draft then concluded:

Based on the analysis and evaluation documented in the EIS, and after careful consideration of all social, economic, and environmental factors, including comments received on the EIS, it is FHWA’s decision to adopt the selected alternative contained therein as the proposed action for this project.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How about a local share for the I-94 and the Zoo Interchange projects?

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has irritated Waukesha County officials by insisting the county go halvesies on the projected $50 million cost of a bypass around the city, according to the JS.

Waukesha County officials object, and so much want to stay on the highway welfare rolls and contribute just 10% that they are completely dropping their bypass funding from the county's long-range capital plan.

The road project, highly desirable to the county as a supremely-discounted bargain, is completely undesirable when Waukesha must pay just half the actual cost. Still a bargain, but not quite what county officials had in mind.

What other highway projects would lose their luster if local units of government had to pay? Think Kenosha County would be so eager to destroy wetlands for I-94 interchange reconstruction if Kenosha County residents had to pick up half the cost? Do you think Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker would push freeways over transit if half the cost of rebuilding North-South I-94 in Milwaukee County appeared on county property tax bills?

Milwaukee Ald. Robert Bauman has long advocated that local governments share in the cost of highway projects now funded by the state. The Waukesha bypass reaction shows he's on to something. Kudos to WisDOT for insisting on a significant cost-share. Now the agency should expand that idea to other highway projects.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

State mulls tearing down the Hoan bridge

The State Department of Transportation is thinking about tearing down the Hoan Bridge and replacing rebuilding most of I-794 at street level, according to the Milwaukee Business Journal.

Rehabbing the bridge may simply be too expensive, WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi said.

No timetables are set for the study's completion or when demolition of the bridge could begin, Busalacchi said. He declined to prove the exact cost of rebuilding the freeway.

No word on whether WisDOT plans to add bike lanes to the new freeway.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Don't count on $113 a barrel oil

It may be nice to think that the slide in oil prices that dropped the price to $113 a barrel will keep on sliding downward.

Dream on.

The Energy Information Agency today said it expected oil prices to climb back to the $120 to $130 per barrel range for the rest of the year. Maybe.

From the agency's report, "This Week in Petroleum:"

While we are not quite as confident in forecasting the near-term path for oil prices as Michael Phelps might be about winning his next race, we do think that crude oil prices may settle in the $120 - $130 per barrel range for most of the remainder of the year, barring any additional major supply disruptions from hurricanes or other events such as the current conflict in Georgia. This is largely due to our projection that year-over-year declines in U.S. oil consumption will not be as large in the second half of the year, in part due to relatively weak consumption in the second half of last year and also to the perceived end of the upward surge in prices. Balancing out the forecasted decreases in U.S. consumption, we project relatively strong continued demand growth in non-OECD countries. Finally, as prices drop, Saudi Arabia may cut back on its recent increase in production, which could halt the most recent price decline. Of course, whether or not this scenario unfolds is anyone’s guess, but understanding the factors behind the increase and recent decline in oil prices is important in understanding what might come next in the prices we pay at the pump.

Meanwhile, we have a State Department of Transportation celebrating an $800 million freeway interchange that too many people can't afford to drive on because they can't afford the gas, and a transit system that very same WisDOT is watching wither and die. It just doesn't make sense.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

More study needed on I-94 project, groups say

More study is needed to determine whether additional lanes are needed on North-South I-94, according to a coalition of civil rights and environmental groups.

The study is needed because of the dramatic drop in driving that resulted from higher gas prices, attorney Dennis Grzezinski wrote on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, Inc., 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, Inc., Midwest Environmental Advocates, Inc., and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -Milwaukee Branch.

Grzezinski wrote:

The "need" for adding two highway lanes to the 1-94 North-South corridor has been premised solely on projections that future increases in vehicle miles traveled in the corridor will result in increased congestion during the morning and evening rush periods. It is that anticipated future increase in traffic which WisDOT and FHWA have asserted as the justification for needing to construct the additional highway lanes. However, if the increased future traffic volumes are not actually likely to materialize, there is no need to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars, and to incur the adverse environmental consequences, of constructing additional highway lanes in the next few years....

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and WisDOT projected gas prices rising 3% a year from $2.30 in 2005, Grzezinski wrote.

However, as our previous comments have noted, gasoline prices have not increased at 3% per year since 2005, but have increased far more than that. Local gasoline prices were approaching $3.00/gallon by June 2006, and were at $4.00/gallon and above by the date of the Record of Decision. They have ranged above and below the $4.00/gallon level since then. While increasing gas prices were mentioned in the FEIS and ROD, the agencies' environmental analysis does not indicate that there was any reconsideration of future traffic projections in light of this dramatic increase in the cost of fuel. Rather, the thrust of agency responses to comments regarding the dramatically increased gasoline prices has been that the future price estimates were reasonable, and by implication that the previous projections of future increases in highway traffic volumes remained valid. More recent developments have demonstrated that the assumptions which underlay SEWRPC's projections of ever-increasing traffic volumes are no longer applicable....

The Federal Highway Administration has both noted the dramatic decrease in driving and the related drop in gas tax revenue, Grzezinski said. Meanwhile, transit ridership is up, he said.

These developments, on their face, call into question the asserted need for constructing additional highway lanes along the 1-94 North-South corridor, purportedly to deal with future congestion problems projected to result from ever-increasing highway traffic volumes.

Each of the groups -- the ACLU, 1000 Friends, Midwest Environmental Advocates and the NAACP -- request that a supplemental environmental impact statement be prepared relating to the Project, and that a hard look be taken anew at whether or not there is a need to construct the additional highway lanes.

Hat tip: Michael Horne at Getting Frank.

Monday, August 11, 2008

No money for lights, but...

The JS reports that the state does not have enough money to repair lights on its highways.

According to the story:

State transportation officials acknowledge the lack of lighting and say that the problem snowballed the past three or four years after budgets for state lighting projects shrunk or were wiped out completely.

Since 2004, less than $200,000 has been available for lighting projects in Milwaukee County, so the state fell behind in replacing lights. In 2006, the budget was cut entirely. The state had been meeting its mark of replacing lights every four years until 2005....

This year, DOT has allocated nearly $400,000 for lighting projects. That money will go to replace about 2,900 lights in Milwaukee County by the end of this year, Dirks said.
Transportation officials said certain areas of roadway are fixed immediately if there are burnouts. Lights along the Hoan Bridge, for example, are almost all lit.

Those that are waiting to be replaced are about a year or two overdue, Dirks said. Lights are usually replaced about every four years and then maintained in between if they break or malfunction because of weather or an accident.

And yet the state has billions to spend on unneeded freeway expansion?

Something is really, really wrong here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

More transit cuts requested

Milwaukee County Transit Service would be wacked again under a 2009 budget request. More here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A stunning drop in driving

American drivers rolled through 9.6 billion miles less in May than a year earlier, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

That's a big drop.

"We have seen the longest decline in vehicular miles traveled since we started collecting this data," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters, quoted by CNN.

Peters said that in the first four months of this year, Americans traveled 40.5 billion miles less compared with the same period in 2007....Many of these commuters are flocking to trains, buses and bikes, or telecommuting from home.

Fewer miles and a surging demand for transit: That must be why our State Department of Transportation, governor and county executive want to build bigger, really expensive freeways that we can't afford to maintain while killing transit with a million tiny-to-medium-sized cuts.

The FHA said that driving in May experienced the third-largest monthly drop since the agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation that manages the nation's highways and bridges, began collecting data 66 years ago. It was the largest drop for any May, a month that usually sees driving increase due to the Memorial Day holiday, the agency said. Three of those largest monthly declines have occurred since December, as unusually high fuel prices take a toll on drivers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Things fall apart...

A bridge in Sturgeon Bay had to be shut down Monday because it is in such awful shape. Pieces of it are literally falling off to the ground or water below.

Another sign of the messed up transportation policies in this state -- there is money for unnecessary expansion of North-South I-94 and to rebuild the Zoo Interchange on an accelerated timeline, but the Wisconsin Department of Transportation lets a bridge slide into such disrepair that it becomes a hazard. From the Green Bay Gazette:

STURGEON BAY — Even before the Michigan Street Bridge was shut down Monday because of "severe structural deterioration," city and Door County officials were trying to figure out how to reopen the span.

That includes providing round-the-clock, on-site enforcement of weight limits if the state lifts its ban and reopens the bridge, Sturgeon Bay Police Chief Dan Trelka said.

"We'd put a city police officer or Door County sheriff's deputy at either end and visually monitor what crosses," Trelka said.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation shut down the bridge at 3 p.m. Monday as a result of deterioration observed during an inspection earlier this month, said Will Dorsey, operations manager for the state Department of Transportation office in Ashwaubenon.

Engineers were concerned about vehicles violating a 5-ton weight limit imposed several years ago to prolong the life of the bridge, Dorsey said.

"There were a number of vehicles well in excess of the 5-ton limit using the bridge," Dorsey said. "We've seen trailers, semis; and we are concerned for the safety of the traveling public."

With the shutdown of the Michigan Street span, all vehicle traffic was diverted to the Bayview Bridge that crosses on Wisconsin 42/57 on the east side of the city.

Michael Horne takes up the transportation fight

Michael Horne of MilwaukeeWorld has started a new blog, Getting Frank, devoted to dissecting Frank Busalacchi and his transportation policies.

Definitely a "must" to bookmark and follow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Senate struggles with Highway Trust Fund fix

The US Senate is scrambling to shore up the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is tanking because of drop of gas tax revenue attributable to a drop in driving.

The ethically-challenged Charles Rangel is trying to push through a plan to transfer $8 billion from general US Department of Transportation funds to the highway trust fund.

But, as noted in The Hill, "several attempts to get the $8 billion transfer passed into law in recent weeks, however, have failed."

Last week Senate appropriators easily passed a fiscal 2009 transportation and housing spending bill that included language preventing the federal highway account from going into debt next year.

Senate Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the $8 billion transfer would prevent a 34 percent cut in spending for highway projects.

But any attempt to fix the shortfall through spending bills is unreliable. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said only two appropriations bills will be completed this year and the rest — including the transportation and housing bill — will be rolled into a continuing resolution lasting into next year.

And while an $8 billion transfer may be a (very) short-term fix, what comes next? Higher gas taxes for people already struggling to fill their tanks?

Gas prices dropped 1/10%! Back to our SUVs!

Of course, prices are still well over $4 a gallon.

From the nicely-written This Week in Petroleum:

For the first time since June 23, the U.S. average retail price for regular gasoline did not increase; at 411.3 cents per gallon, the price dipped just a tenth of a cent. On a regional basis, prices were mixed, going up in the Midwest, Gulf Coast, and Rocky Mountains while dropping somewhat in the East Coast and West Coast. On the East Coast, the price dropped 0.8 cent to 407.1 cents per gallon. In the Midwest, the price rose 0.7 cent to 406.6 cents per gallon. Despite going up by 1.3 cents to 397.1 cents per gallon, the Gulf Coast price remained the lowest of any region and continued to be the only region where the price was under $4. For the second week in a row, the increase in the Rocky Mountains was the largest of any region, moving up 3.2 cents to 409.7 cents per gallon. The West Coast price dropped 2.5 cents to 441.5 cents per gallon. The average in California also went down, dropping 3 cents to 452 cents per gallon, still 136.2 cents higher than the price a year ago.

For the second week in a row, the U.S. average retail diesel price increased. The price strengthened 3.7 cents to another all-time high of 476.4 cents per gallon. The prices rose to new record highs in all five regions. The average price on the East Coast increased 3.3 cents to 482.2 cents per gallon. The price in the Midwest remained the lowest of any region at 469.8 cents per gallon, an increase of 4.4 cents. The average price in the Gulf Coast rose 4 cents to 473.7 cents per gallon. The Rocky Mountains had the largest rise of any region, jumping 4.6 cents to 471.8 cents per gallon. On the West Coast, the average price moved 2.3 cents higher to 490.9 cents per gallon. In California, the average price also increased, going up 2.5 cents to 502.6 cents per gallon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Texas DOT: roads don't pay for themselves

The Texas Department of Transportation knows that no road pays for itself through tolls or gas taxes.

That is no surprise, really -- traditionally road taxes are collected in one area of a state and spent in another. For example, gas taxes collected in Wausau are going to be thrown away on expanding North-South I-94 where expansion won't help traffic times.

What is very nice about TDOT's methodology is that it recognizes the cost of a highway over its lifetime -- including the cost of maintenance. From TDOT web site:

When is a given road actually “paid for?”

Just like your car, it never is. You may have paid the note, but maintenance and fuel costs go on as long as you own the vehicle. Once a road is built, maintenance and rehabilitation costs last its entire life, generally about 40 years.

The decision to build a road is a permanent commitment to the traveling public. Not only will a road be built, but it must also be routinely maintained and reconstructed when necessary, meaning no road is ever truly “paid for.”

Until recently, when TxDOT built or expanded a road, no methodology existed to determine the extent to which this work would be paid off through revenues.

The Asset Value Index, was developed to compare the full 40-year life-cycle costs to the revenues attributable to a given road corridor or section. The shorthand version calculates how much gasoline is consumed on a roadway and how much gas tax revenue that generates.

The Asset Value Index is the ratio of the total expected revenues divided by the total expected costs. If the ratio is 0.60, the road will produce revenues to meet 60 percent of its costs; it would be “paid for” only if the ratio were 1.00, when the revenues met 100 percent of costs. Another way of describing this is to do a “tax gap” analysis, which shows how much the state fuel tax would have to be on that given corridor for the ratio for revenues to match costs.

Applying this methodology, revealed that no road pays for itself in gas taxes and fees. For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes. That gives a tax gap ratio of .16, which means that the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon. This is just one example, but there is not one road in Texas that pays for itself based on the tax system of today. Some roads pay for about half their true cost, but most roads we have analyzed pay for considerably less. To conclude, in the SH 99 example, since the traffic volume for that road doesn't generate enough fuel tax revenue to pay for it, revenues from other parts of the state must be used to build and maintain this corridor segment. The same is true across the state, meaning that, as revealed by the tax gap analysis, overall revenues are not sufficient to meet the state’s transportation needs.

This is miles ahead of our own Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which cites the $1.69 billion construction cost of rebuilding expanding that very same North-South I-94 as if that is the only cost associated with the project.

The Texas method is obviously more honest and transparent. We await WisDOT's adoption of it. And await and await and await....

Monday, July 7, 2008

This can't happen to us -- we're Americans!

Reality check, folks. It is happening to us Americans. Wel have to stand in line with the rest of the world for dwindling natural resources.

From a new report by CIBC World Markets, a Canadian investment bank:

With the basic laws of supply and demand no longer operative in crude oil markets, we are compelled to once again raise our target prices for oil. We are lifting our target for West Texas Intermediate by $20 per barrel to an average price of $150 next year and by $50 per barrel to an average price of $200 per barrel by 2010. Under prevailing refinery margins, that should translate into a near-$7 per gallon pump price within two years, a 70% increase from today’s already record levels....

As gasoline prices climb inexorably, American driving habits are going to have to undergo a massive change, mimicking the driving habits long adopted by Europeans who have faced much higher gas prices. Average miles driven will likely fall by as much as 15%, while the market share of light trucks, SUVs and vans will be literally halved, reversing the trend of the last fifteen years. But the most fundamental, and unprecedented change will be in the number of vehicles on the road.

Over the next four years, we are likely to witness the greatest mass exodus of vehicles off America’s highways in history. By 2012, there should be some 10 million fewer vehicles on American roadways than there are today—a decline that dwarfs all previous adjustments including those during the two OPEC oil shocks. Many of those in the exit lane will be low income Americans from households earning less than $25,000 per year. Incredibly, over 10 million of those American households own more than one car.

Soon they won’t own any....

Drum roll, please.

More fundamentally, the freeways are about to getless congested. (Emphasis added) Not only will the number of vehicle registrations in the United States not grow over the next four years, but by 2012 there should be roughly 10 million fewer vehicles on the road in America than there are today. For the past half century, America has spent the bulk of its infrastructure money on building highways—only to see that soon, $7 per gallon gasoline prices will lead to fewer and fewer people using them.

Will somebody wake up State Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi and tell him? He is snoozing gently in the past.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Phil Evenson denies it...correctly

SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson dropped a line to flat out deny that he suggested using toll lanes to ease congestion as I, going off a JS story, said he did.

Evenson's right. He didn't say it. My apologies.

From his note:

The thrust of my too brief remarks at the WCAN (Waukesha County Action Network) event was on the eroding nature of the mainstay state funding source in Wisconsin for highways, local roads, and transit--the gas tax. All three systems will suffer if we don't begin to address this issue. My suggestion was to think about tolling the entire state freeway system whether congested or not. I did not advocate using tolls to lessen congestion, nor did I advocate the use of pricing to ensure congestion-free lanes, whether existing or proposed lanes. I did indicate that toll revenues could be a source of local funds for transit.

Video of the event is archived at Wisconsin Eye. Evenson's remarks did indeed focus solely on using road pricing as a way to fund transportation, including potentially transit. You can find the video here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

EPA, FHWA and I-94: part of a larger scandal?

At first, the Federal Highway Administration's position on the global warming impacts of expanding North-South I-94 just seemed completely looney tunes. Now, though, with revelations in the New York Times this week that the White House just refused to open an email from the EPA concerning global warming, FHWA's dismissal of global warming concerns seems to transcend idiocy and elevate itself into a piece of a larger scandal.

Here is the relevant passage from the FHWA's record of decision approving WisDOT's proposal to expand the freeway even though people are driving less and expansion won't improve drive times in the vast majority of the project area.

Comment - "The report's analysis of greenhouse gas impacts is inadequate. The analysis is not much of an improvement over the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which did not mention greenhouse gases at all. The Final EIS talks about greenhouse gases, but doesn't say much useful and offers no mitigation plans." The FEIS violates NEPA requirements by not committing to mitigation of GHG emissions.

Response - FHWA's position is that greenhouse gas emissions/climate change is a global issue, the affected environment is the entire planet, and no individual project's emissions will be large enough to perceptibly impact global greenhouse gas emissions and/or climate. FHWA commits to mitigation measures when 1) the impacts for which the mitigation is proposed actually result from the proposed action, and 2) the proposed mitigation represents a reasonable public expenditure (23CFR 771.105(d)).

Because global climate change cannot be attributed to a specific project FHWA will not mitigate potential greenhouse gas emission impacts of the proposed action. (Emphasis added.)

To date, no national standards have been established regarding greenhouse gases, nor has the U.S. EPA established criteria or thresholds for greenhouse gas emissions. On April 2, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al. that the U.S. EPA does have authority under the Clean Air Act to establish motor vehicle emissions standards for carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. EPA is currently determining the implications to national policies and programs as a result of the Supreme Court decision. However, the Court's decision did not have any direct implications on requirements for developing transportation projects.

FHWA is actively engaged with the U.S. DOT Center for Climate Change to develop strategies to reduce transportation's contribution to greenhouse gases — particularly carbon dioxide emissions — and to assess the risks to transportation systems and services from climate change. FHWA will continue to pursue these efforts as productive steps to address this important issue.

Well, hell. The Bushies in the Federal Highway Administration are saying that because the global warming impact of each individual highway project cannot be precisely measured, nothing will be done concerning any project to try to mitigate the impacts we know to exist.

Idiotic reasoning? You bet. (That idiocy, unfortunately, was warmly embraced by Secretary Frank Busalacchi and his merry minions at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Does Gov. Doyle really feel comfortable with his administration being so closely associated with George Bush's pseudo-science?) But it may be more than idiocy -- The New York Times reported this week that the Bush loyalists
just ignored what they did not want to acknowledge.

From the Times:

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.

The document, which ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status, was the E.P.A.’s answer to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required it to determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment, the officials said.

This week, more than six months later, the E.P.A. is set to respond to that order by releasing a watered-down version of the original proposal that offers no conclusion. Instead, the document reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.

Over the past five days, the officials said, the White House successfully put pressure on the E.P.A. to eliminate large sections of the original analysis that supported regulation, including a finding that tough regulation of motor vehicle emissions could produce $500 billion to $2 trillion in economic benefits over the next 32 years. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter....

In early December, the E.P.A.’s draft finding that greenhouse gases endanger the environment used Energy Department data from 2007 to conclude that it would be cost effective to require the nation’s motor vehicle fleet to average 37.7 miles per gallon in 2018, according to government officials familiar with the document.

About 10 days after the finding was left unopened by officials at the Office of Management and Budget, Congress passed and President Bush signed a new energy bill mandating an increase in average fuel-economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The day the law was signed, the E.P.A. administrator rejected the unanimous recommendation of his staff and denied California a waiver needed to regulate vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases in the state, saying the new law’s approach was preferable and climate change required global, not regional, solutions.

California’s regulations would have imposed tougher standards.

The Transportation Department made its own fuel-economy proposals public almost two months ago; they were based on the assumption that gasoline would range from $2.26 per gallon in 2016 to $2.51 per gallon in 2030, and set a maximum average standard of 35 miles per gallon in 2020.... (This delusion about gas prices is in contrast to WisDOT's, where folks believe that gasoline will be $2.51 a gallon this year.)

The House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, led by Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, has been seeking the discarded E.P.A. finding on the dangers of climate change.

After reading it last week, Mr. Markey’s office sent a letter to Mr. Bush saying, “E.P.A. Administrator Stephen Johnson determined that man-made global warming is unequivocal, the evidence is compelling and robust, and the administration must act to prevent harm rather than wait for harm to occur.”

Simultaneously, Mr. Waxman’s committee is weighing its response to the White House’s refusal to turn over subpoenaed documents relating to the E.P.A.’s handling of recent climate-change and air-pollution decisions. The White House, which has turned over other material to the committee, last week asserted a claim of executive privilege over the remaining documents.

Did EPA ever suggest specific steps to mitigate greenhouse gas impacts from highway projects? Did the agency recommend a new emphasis on transit? We don't know, because Bush is hiding records.

It is absolutely clear, though, that the US DOT and its Federal Highway Administration is dancing around the real EPA assertions that greenhouse gases pose a threat and should be controlled. Surely the actions of the Bush administration should compel WisDOT to take a new look at the record of decision.

It's just too bad that WisDOT leadership has climbed into bed with Bush's charlatans and pulled the blankets high and tight over their collective heads.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Congestion relief for wealthy, Evenson advocates

Highway planning according to SEWRPC chief Phil Evenson: People of means should be able to buy their way out of congestion while everyone else breathes car exhaust.

Evenson proposed this week that drivers who can afford to pay tolls to drive in less congested lanes should be allowed to do so.

“What’s wrong with a premium charge for a premium ride?” Evenson said during a forum on transportation funding sponsored, according to the JS.

Where to start...

Well, for one thing, SEWRPC and the highway happy planners at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation keep insisting that easing congestion is essential for a strong economy. But here comes Evenson, completely disowning overall congestion relief. He's now willing to provide better traffic movement only to those who can pay more for it.

SEWRPC has long dismissed concerns that adding highway lanes will increase air pollution because there will be more cars on the road. SEWRPC has argued repeatedly that cars moving at faster speeds are less polluting than cars stuck in stop and go traffic. Under Evenson's proposal, though, many people would still be stuck in traffic. The freeway would be wider, more people would be on it, but traffic jams in a majority of lanes could actually be worse. Even under SEWRPC's convoluted logic on pollution, air pollution could well be worse than it otherwise would be.

How high would the tolls have to be to cover the cost of building and maintaining the extra lanes for rich people? Or would the average Wisconsin driver, who can't afford to drive in the rich people's lanes, have to pay to build them?

What happens if too many people want to drive in that lane? Do we build yet another rich people's traffic lane, or do we convert a regular traffic lane to a rich person's lane, thereby increasing congestion in the regular people's lane?

Evenson's proposal does nothing to address the negative aspects of freeway construction -- the noise, dirt. loss of green space, loss of wetlands, loss of flood plain, loss of tax base, etc. The negative impacts of SEWRPC's existing freeway expansion plan is visited mostly on City of Milwaukee residents -- Evenson's proposal for rich people's traffic lanes likely would also most negatively affect city residents. At least he's consistent on some things.

And, as a commenter on Jim Rowen's blog points out, Evenson's proposal conveniently overlooks the fact that people are driving less.

Evenson's proposal benefits a few people with adequate disposable income who experience a few minutes of delay in their drives to the suburbs. The costs are borne by everyone else.

And global warming impacts? Shhhh. SEWRPC doesn't like to talk about that.

Sounds like the type of SEWRPC plan we have come to expect.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dem leadership holds fast on transit funding

A key House committee refused to raid the transit fund for the money to build more highways, as the Bush administration wanted. Unfortunately, there is still not enough money in the transit fund to meet this country's needs.

From CQ Politics:

House Panel Approves Transportation-Housing Spending

The chairman of the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee on Friday said the projected shortfall of the federal Highway Trust Fund is not his panel’s responsibility to fix.

“This shortfall is not of this committee’s making,” said John W. Olver , D-Mass.

Both the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office have projected the trust fund will run up to a $3.7 billion deficit in fiscal 2009. The panel rejected requests from the Bush administration to borrow $3.2 billion from the mass transit fund to make up for the difference.

The subcommittee approved a $108.3 billion appropriations bill with about $55 billion in discretionary spending for transportation, housing and other independent agencies such as the Washington-area Metro system. The bill would appropriate $66.7 billion for transportation and $41.5 billion for housing.

Keeping with the guarantees in the 2005 highway law, the panel provided $40.2 billion for highways and $10.3 billion for public transit services. That number includes $1.8 billion for new commuter transit lines.

Amtrak received $1.5 billion, including $114 million additional funds for back pay to union employees who worked without a pay increase for eight years. That’s significantly more than the president’s $800 million request.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Driving drops again -- let's build bigger freeways

Will the Wisconsin Department of Transportation please wake up?

From today's USA Today:

Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles from November through April than during the same period in 2006-07, the biggest such drop since the Iranian revolution led to gasoline supply shortages in 1979-80.

That's a lot of miles undriven.

We already knew that expanding North-South I-94 won't improve driving speeds along most of the route. We know that WisDOT's reconstruction plan for the freeway will cost $1.9 billion and the state hasn't a clue how to pay for it.

Now we know that Americans are seriously cutting back on their driving, which not only makes freeway expansion a bit more silly, but also a bit less affordable because less driving means less money in state and federal highway funds.

So will WisDOT wake up?

Not likely. It is resting so comfortably on that pillow stuffed with our tax dollars.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Living near freeways makes allergies worse

From the Boston Globe:

BOTTOM LINE: Children who live close to a major road and are therefore exposed to traffic-related air pollution have an increased risk of allergies, eczema, and asthma, said Heinrich.

CAUTIONS: Other factors, like socioeconomic status, also contribute to the development of allergies, and though the study accounted for these, we cannot conclusively say that traffic pollution alone is the cause for higher allergy risk.

WHAT'S NEXT: The researchers plan to follow the children until age 10 or longer to see the effects of age and any family moves.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Frank Busalacchi's response misses the truth

Does WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi truly not understand his own department and its workings or is he a flat-out liar? Top city officials wrote to Busalacchi to advocate the $200 million budgeted for expanding North-South I-94 be used for transit instead.

Frank responded with a letter that contained a couple of whoppers. One response Busalacchi makes contradicts itself entirely within two short sentences. Busalacchi first summarized a point in the city's letter, then stepped immediately in to Delusion Land:

The FEIS acknowledges that freeway expansion in most sections of the I-94 North-South corridor would result in little or no changes in drive times

This is correct. The expansion is absolutely necessary to maintain little or no change in drive times; without expansion, driving conditions will be much worse.

Yup. Frank believes both that freeway expansion won't help drive times and that it is absolutely necessary or conditions will get much worse. He really should give up smokin' those exhaust pipes.

Here is what WisDOT's own Environmental Impact Statement says about what the expansion would accomplish.

The Safety and Design Improvements with Added Capacity Alternative would decrease travel times on SB I-94 during the evening rush hour by over 10 minutes between Howard Avenue and College Avenue in 2035, compared to the Safety and Design Improvements Alternative. Travel times would not vary by as much south of College Avenue. In Racine and Kenosha Counties, there would be little difference in travel times between the two alternatives.

The EIS also said that in Racine and Kenosha counties, "existing travel times within the corridor are not currently encumbered by congestion -- reductions in travel time will be minimal."

Maybe Frank should actually read the report before he embarrasses himself, his agency and Gov. Doyle again.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

And WisDOT won't rethink a thing

WisDOT is beginning to look just a little bit silly in its refusal to take into consideration any new inconvenient fact that might suggest altermatives to highway-building. Here's the latest from the Washington Post:

The average price of a gallon of gasoline nationally is now almost a dollar higher than it was a year ago, according to the Energy Department. And with crude oil trading at more than $134 a barrel yesterday, more gasoline price increases are probably in the pipeline as refiners and retailers attempt to pass crude oil costs along to motorists, industry analysts warn.

"The fear here is that we've crossed a Rubicon," said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA. "Normally, prices plateau after Memorial Day . . . But I don't think we're going to get much relief this summer."

In a society nurtured on cheap gasoline, the high fuel prices are having disparate effects: the end of free pizza deliveries at major franchises, a plunge in the sales of sport-utility vehicles, a steep drop in the price of houses that are far from jobs or mass transit.

Federal officials have also reported the first decline in miles driven on U.S. roads since 1979, business at roadside convenience stores has slowed, and the tourism industry is bracing for a downturn this summer. Nationwide, about 8 percent of Americans say they have changed their commuting patterns and are taking public transportation, according to a survey conducted by NPD Group, a market research firm. The same share of respondents said they would vacation closer to home this summer because of rising gas prices.

Monday, June 2, 2008

California making improvements where they matter

While the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is looking to throw a couple hundred million away on widening a freeway for no discernible purpose, California is giving up battling a lawsuit and is going to spend money on improvements that actually help people.

The state is going to spend up to $2 billion to make improvements to accommodate people with handicaps.

What a concept.

California's work includes, according to the San Diego Union:
  • Building about 10,000 new curb ramps.
  • Improving about 50,000 existing curb ramps to meet recent changes in design requirements.
  • Rebuilding a “considerable percentage” of the approximately 2,500 miles of sidewalk under Caltrans jurisdiction.
  • Rebuilding pavement at crosswalks for a “considerable percentage” of the approximately 15,000 state highway intersections and installing audible crossing signals for the visually impaired.
It can be so very refreshing to reach out to people beyond the road-builder campaign donor crowd. WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi ought to try it sometime.

Wonder just how compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act WisDOT is?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The contortionist logic

The JS editorial board continues to push freeway expansion on North-South I-94, with only a slight nod to a crucial fact.

Opponents of the widening - such as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett - argue that widening the roadway would not significantly ease travel times and that the money for expanding the roadway could be better used for mass transit alternatives. Those are legitimate concerns, especially with the rise in gas prices, and certainly the state could push harder for mass transit and the KRM.

Widening the freeway won't do what the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has for years said it will do. It will not improve traffic flow in Racine and Kenosha Counties. Maybe the JS editorial board thinks spending $200 million for something that doesn't work is a bargain. In support of its argument it cites an outdated SEWRPC study that already has been shown to be grossly inaccurate and that is contradicted by WisDOT's finding that freeway expansion won't do much for traffic flow.

Maybe we can sell the Board a $50,000 Hummer convertible. Like WisDOT's freeway to "modernize" the freeway without lane expansion, it's bigger than anyone really needs and really environmentally unfriendly. For an extra $10,000 the editorial board can get an Hummer convertible. Board members can roll around town with the wind blowing through their hair and the sun in their faces.

But wait. Turns out that the convertible roof doesn't open.

Will the editorial board still buy it? Probably not. No one in their right minds would pay extra for something knowing that it won't work.

Then why is it so damned willing to spend $200 million for freeway expansion that won't work? We are guessing it has something to do with that freeway subsidy from the federal government. The editorial board is bravely endorsing spending someone else's money.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hey, gov! Now what?

When Gov. Jim Doyle announced that the state would accelerate the construction scheduled for the Zoo Interchange, this is the JS reported his reasoning:

Another factor was the state's financial picture, Doyle said. Instead of choosing between roads and school spending, the state's fiscal outlook is healthy enough to handle the road work without sacrificing other programs, the governor said.

OK, now the budget isn't healthy any more. The state can't afford the project, and neither can the federal Highway Trust Fund.

Why is this project still on the fast track?

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Zoo Interchange meeting

There are seven conceptual alternatives for the Zoo Interchange that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is rolling out to the public, but it's likely that four of them are already really dead. Those four -- rebuild the interchange just as it is or three different versions of making spot improvements -- would not remove left side exit and entrance ramps. which WisDOT has said over and over and over again that it would like to do.

The three remaining versions of the reconstruction project do not call for lane expansion, but do call for room for additional lanes sometime in the undefined future. WisDOT says lanes won't be added unless some future study calls for that. Since additional lanes already are proposed for I-894 as part of the North-South I-94 project, one might suspect that the call for additional lanes is not so very far away.

The three most likely options have different impacts, ranging from the potential destruction of the Boy Scout headquarters and a fire station on S. 84th St., to chomping away at the Honey Creek Corporate Center near State Fair Park, to relocation of major We Energies infrastructure, to razing a varying number of homes.

WisDOT had big maps showing all the alternatives at the public meeting at State Fair Park Wednesday night, and the agency is working to make .pdf files small enough to post on the Internet without choking the average home computer upon viewing or download, according to a representative. The specific impacts are not shown -- there are no Xs or dots where houses would come down. That is because, the rep said, the reconstruction plans are still in progress and specific addresses designated for destruction are not known.

Thanks to WisDOT staff for their professionalism and courtesy. It is still a bad idea, however, to invest so heavily in single transportation mode while requiring one community to bear the bulk of the burden of the negative impacts of the project.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Holy project creep, batman!

WisDOT did it again. The Zoo Interchange project, with no apparent reason, suddenly is larger than it was a few days ago.

The project area originally extended from 76th St. on the east, 116th St. on the west, the Union Pacific Railroad south of Greenfield Ave. on the south, and Center St. on the north. Now, magically, it extends from N. 70th St. to N. 124th St., and from W. Burleigh St. to W. Lincoln Ave.

It's the same kind of back door project expansion WisDOT did with the North-South I-94 project. Hey, what a coincidence!

WisDOT also publicly and earnestly and repeatedly announced that its goal was to maintain the current horizontal footprint of the interchange. Yeah, OK, but now it is talking expanding service roads and tearing down 20 homes and maybe another several commercial buildings, according to the JS.

WisDOT says it will pay fair price for any homes or businesses it destroys.

And yet it says it can't afford to deal with invasive plants -- even those it is required by law to remove -- on its properties. Something doesn't add up here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Road builders lose $103 million, now $77 million ahead

Figure this one out. State transportation spending already got a 15% budget boost ($350 million) in the 2007-09 budget. When the legislature met to fix the budget shortfall, it approved an additional $180 million for WisDOT.

Gov. Doyle, claiming the mantle of fiscal responsibility, is going to take $103 million from WisDOT to help cover the state's deficit, according to Doyle Budget Director Dave Schmiedicke via the JS.

If math hasn't changed since yesterday, $180 million - $103 million = $77 million.

Yowza. The state's still broke, but WisDOT's richer.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Deadline for comments on North-South I-94 project is approaching

The deadline for comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the proposed North-South I-94 reconstruction and expansion project is May 5. As you know all, there were numerous flaws and efficiencies in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The FEIS addresses some of the flaws, ignores others and has some new ones all its own. We hope you will take the time to submit comments in opposition to freeway expansion in Milwaukee.

Comments can be sent via e-mail to dotsefreeways94nsc@dot.state.wi.us, phone (262) 548-8721 or fax (262) 548-5662.

(Public comments on the draft document, for the most part, were ignored by the State Department of Transportation. Some 64% of people weighing in on the issue opposed the eight-lane expansion configuration still endorsed by WisDOT; 98% opposed the 27th St. access (and lack of it) that WisDOT is proposing for Milwaukee.)

We have requested that that WisDOT extend the comment deadline because until April 23, 19 days into the 30-day comment period, the agency’s web site for the project failed even to mention the existence of the comment period. Information about it was posted only after CASH brought the omission to WisDOT’s attention.

We subsequently requested the extension. We just do not think it unreasonable that the department give full notice of a 30-day comment period on its major communications vehicle for the project. Information about the comment period for the DEIS was posted there, and a reasonable person certainly would expect to be able to find similar information comment period for the final document.

WisDOT, though, is arguing that the official notice of the comment period was published in the Federal Register, and that information also was included in newspaper ads and on 13,000 postcards the agency sent out.

Dealing with these things in order:

  • The Federal Register is not a very good public outreach tool, to say the least. The Federal Register is a dense, difficult publication and is not widely read by the general public.
  • The contention that adequate notice can be given through newspaper ads when newspaper readership is in rapid decline is, like WisDOT’s transportation priorities, stuck somewhere in the rapidly receding past.
  • 13,000 postcards is not anywhere near enough to provide notice all of those who might wish to comment on the FEIS.

The FEIS is, with appendixes and notes, well over 400 pages long. Some highlights and lowlights are provided below. You can read the entire report at http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/projects/d2/i94/eis.htm

Expanding the freeway will not improve travel times in Kenosha and Racine counties beyond the improvements that would be realized through reconstruction with design improvements but without full expansion. According to the EIS:

The Safety and Design Improvements with Added Capacity Alternative would decrease travel times on SB I-94 during the evening rush hour by over 10 minutes between Howard Avenue and College Avenue in 2035, compared to the Safety and Design Improvements Alternative. Travel times would not vary by as much south of College Avenue. In Racine and Kenosha Counties, there would be little difference in travel times between the two alternatives.

WisDOT estimates that expansion costs account for $200 million of the $1.9 billion total project price tag.

The language in the Final EIS is the first time that WisDOT has acknowledged that expansion won’t help traffic in the majority of the project area. Unfortunately, our friends in the media haven’t reported this.

The report’s analysis of greenhouse gas impacts is inadequate. The analysis is not much of an improvement over the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which did not mention greenhouse gases at all. The final EIS talks about greenhouse gases, but doesn’t say much useful and offers no mitigation plans. From the final EIS:

WisDOT is an active partner on the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming, providing input as part of the Transportation Work Group. The work group is considering policy recommendations, including adopting California emission standards, using low carbon fuels, and reducing VMT through land use planning and implementation of public transit.


WisDOT will continue to participate in statewide initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases, monitor the development of additional findings, and minimize impacts of projects to the greatest practical extent allowed in its stated mission: to develop and operate a safe and efficient transportation system (WisDOT, 2004).

The plan does not include adequate plans for mitigating wetland loss in the affected watersheds: The US Environmental Protection Agency, in a letter to WisDOT, said that “If impacts to the seven acres of ADID wetlands (wetlands that generally are not suitable to be filled) are unavoidable and must be filled, at a minimum ratio of 2:1 of acres restored to acres lost, 14 additional acres of compensatory mitigation must be found. It is absolutely critical that these 14 acres contribute to restoring wetlands in or next to primary environmental corridors of the Des Plaines and / or Root Rivers, and to continue the water quality functions of wetlands for this regions.”

EPA also said that another 73.5 acres of new wetlands will be needed to compensate for the loss of other wetlands due to the freeway project. “The wetlands need to be provided for in one or more of the project’s watersheds,” the agency said.

WisDOT indicated it is most likely to locate its wetland compensatory acreage in Walworth County, well outside the Des Plaines, Root River, Oak Creek and Kinnickinnic watersheds, those inside the project area. WisDOT said it has been unable to thus far find suitable compensatory land in the relevant watersheds.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement acknowledges that more wetlands will be destroyed or degraded than previously stated. From the study:

In addition to the 53 to 56 acres of anticipated direct wetland impacts of the Build Alternatives, remaining adjacent wetlands could be exposed to further degradation. Degradation can occur from stormwater runoff and increased vulnerability to aggressive, non-native species repopulating degraded wetlands. This degradation contributes to poor floristic quality of disturbed wetlands and reduced functional value.

It is likely there will be the potential for additional wetland loss and degradation associated with planned developments and development that is potentially included from new interchange access in Milwaukee County or improved mobility in the study area.

The FEIS also includes a table – not included in the draft document – detailing another 42-plus acres of wetlands that likely will be lost to other WisDOT projects in the area.

WisDOT acknowledges in the FEIS that more floodplains will be destroyed than previously reported. Again, from the study:

About 17 acres of floodplain fringe area would be filled by either of the Build Alternatives. The potential for cumulative floodplain filling, associated with planned developments that are potentially induced from new interchange access in Milwaukee County or improved mobility in the study area, is likely. For example, the Environmental Assessment prepared for the interchange reconstruction projects in Kenosha and Racine Counties estimated a loss of more than 30 acres of floodplains. In addition to the loss of flood control functions, the cumulative impact of floodplain filling from the I-94 north-south corridor and secondary development results in reduced natural habitat available to wildlife in the area.

The study says that WisDOT is not allowed to identify funding sources for the project. Wisconsin law prevents the current legislature from committing future legislatures to a particular course of action; therefore, the specific source of funds for completing the project cannot be identified at this time,” the EIS said.

That statement is just silly. WisDOT has every right – and a fiduciary obligation – to figure out how this project can be paid for and to make recommendations for doing that. WisDOT is not the legislature and it can never adopt a budget. It sure as heck should be telling us how much more in gas taxes it will need and what debt service burden state residents will be shouldering to pay for a freeway expansion that won’t improve travel times in most of the project area.

The study’s proposal for dealing with invasive plant species is inadequate in light of WisDOT’s own history dealing with invasives. “Linear corridors, such as highways, can foster the movement of invasive plant species. WisDOT will work with DNR during the design phase to develop and assess the feasibility of measures to minimize the spread of invasive species,” the EIS said.

WisDOT, however, stopped making serious efforts to control invasive species several years ago because, it said, there wasn’t enough money. WisDOT shifted that particular burden to private property owners and local units of government. You can more at http://www.milwaukeerising.net/IssuesFreeway54.htm#Invasive

The study fails to adequately address flooding and runoff issues. WisDOT is proposing a massive increase in impervious surface, especially in Milwaukee County. In addition, the agency is proposing to bring the expanded freeway closer to homes and businesses and to increase the slope of the freeway in some areas so that it drains better.

From the report:



Safety and Design Improvementsa

Safety and Design Improvements with Added Capacitya


16 acres

16 acres

18 acres


292 acres

292 acres

341 acres


305 acres

305 acres

352 acres


237 acres

308 acres

355 acres


850 acres

921 acres

1,066 acres

The expansion alternative in short, means impervious surface increase of two acres, or 13%, in Lake County; 49 acres, or 17%, in Kenosha County; 47 acres, or 15%, in Racine County; and 118 acres, or 50%, in Milwaukee County.

WisDOT offers no specific mitigation plans to reduce flooding problems for homeowners and business operators. Instead, it says it is meeting with other agencies on these issues.

The study acknowledges that areas adversely affected by increased noise levels attributable to the expanded freeway would not qualify for soundwalls, according to the report. Conversely, the visual blight of sound walls would be constructed in about a dozen areas where they do not now exist.

The FEIS ignores the reality of gas prices. WisDOT contends that people who say the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission’s 2035 regional transportation and traffic forecasts are wrong are wrong themselves.

SEWRPC projected 2035 gas prices at the 2005 equivalent of $2.30 per gallon, which many people found somewhat comical. WisDOT says, though, that SEWRPC projected a 3% gasoline inflation rate, which would mean gas prices of $5.60 per gallon in 2035 (and still the equivalent of $2.30 in 2005.

If SEWRPC’s 3% inflation projection were accurate, the gallon of gasoline that cost $2.30 in 2005 would cost $2.51 today. WisDOT itself, though, said in the FEIS that the actual average gas price in the Milwaukee area on Jan. 30 was $2.98, according to milwaukeegasprices.com. We checked on April 28 and the average price for unleaded was $3.75, according to the same web site.

The study says that WisDOT contributes $100 million annually to transit programs statewide. The figure is meant to refute the contention that the state does not do enough to fund mass transit and should put more resources there.

WisDOT’s own budget figures show that while the state will indeed spend $292 million in the 2007-09 biennium on transit assistance, it will spend more almost twice that amount -- $577 million – on debt service. Most of that debt, it is safe to assume, was incurred for highway projects.

The state will spend another $395 million on Southeastern Wisconsin freeway projects. Yup, that’s right. The state will spend $100 million more on Milwaukee-area freeways than it will on transit throughout the state.

It will spend a total of $2.4 billion on major highway projects and rehabilitation statewide during 2007-09.

WisDOT does not address the numerous transit cuts that have occurred in Milwaukee County over the past several years due to the lack of funding.

The FEIS drops the offensive argument than minorities will benefit from the project because North-South I-94 connects Milwaukee and Chicago, two minority-majority communities. While the agency highlighted text it added to the Final EIS, it does not show in any way what text it dropped. You have to know that it was in the draft to know it was dropped from the Final EIS.

The study dismisses EPA concerns over air quality modeling. The EPA said that the air modeling WisDOT used was “not consistent with current academic literature and other published guidance.” WisDOT rejected the suggestion of other methodologies.

There are other flaws uncorrected from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. We have previously stated most of these, but some have been updated.

  • 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 said that the cost of highway and street construction materials rose 12.8 percent from March 2007 to March 2008. “Over the last five years, between 2003 and 2008, the price of highway and street construction materials rose 52 percent,” ARBTA said.
  • The traffic and pollution impact estimates included in the report are fiction. Those impacts are based on expansion of transit options to the extent recommended in SEWRPC’s 2035 regional transportation plan. That plan proposes a near doubling of transit service in southeastern Wisconsin by the year 2035 and calls for a significant increase in state funding to support expanded transit. The problem, of course, is that there are neither plans nor funds to implement the plan’s transit recommendations. WisDOT needs to incorporate its transit plans into the DEIS or prepare new impact estimates for the I-94 proposal based on the most likely transit scenarios, not the most optimistic ones.
  • WisDOT’s plan does not consider the induced demand generated by an expanded freeway.
  • The plan puts a disproportionate burden on the city of Milwaukee and its residents. WisDOT acknowledges that construction of an interchange in Oak Creek may have negative impacts on efforts to redevelop the 27th St. business corridor on the south side of Milwaukee and may negatively affect older business corridors in general.
  • The FEIS does not include available documentation regarding work commuting patterns of residents living in predominantly low-income and minority neighborhoods in the project area, which would shed substantial light on the issues of who benefits from the expansion proposal and who does not.
  • The FEIS discusses the state’s contributions to transit systems, but does not directly address how this massive project would affect future transit funding. WisDOT’s decision to fund freeway construction instead of transit disproportionately affects low-income and minority populations that are more reliant on transit. SEWRPC, in the 2035 regional transportation plan, said significant additional funding would be needed to implement and maintain its transit recommendations including “an annual 4 to 5 percent increase” in state funding. WisDOT notes that it is not its responsibility to coordinate transit systems in the region. It does not discuss whether it has any responsibility to provide a balanced transportation system.
  • The FEIS, although it indicates that negative health impacts may be attributable to vehicle emissions, 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.
  • The FEIS fails to analyze the potential environmental and economic impacts of alternative fuels most likely to be adopted in the future.
  • The project would have potentially unacceptable negative impacts on many threatened and endangered plant and animal species, and the FEIS does not contain adequate mitigation plans.
  • The FEIS 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 FEIS does not adequately analyze impacts of the project on traffic speeds and traffic volumes on adjacent streets. The report, for example, lists eight streets that may see a 5,000+ increase in traffic volume during project construction. There are other streets and neighborhoods, however, that will be significantly affected by detoured traffic. While they may not see 5,000-vehicle increases, they also may be built to handle a much smaller volume of traffic than the streets listed. Smaller traffic increases on those streets would still have extremely negative consequences. The overall traffic impact analysis is lacking in substance and does not adequately explain the completed project’s potential impacts on local-street volumes and safety, or on neighborhood environs.
  • The FEIS is silent on the impact of oil prices on construction costs, and is generally silent on the impact of oil prices on how much people drive, although it does say SEWRPC will analyze the impact on driving of $4 per gallon gasoline.