Wednesday, January 30, 2008

HNTB and another Minnesota bridge mess

Minnesota wants $50 million back from HNTB, the big Wisconsin political donor and one of Wisconsin Department of Transportation's largest contractors, for a bridge design the firm screwed up, according to TwinCities.com.

"The Wakota Bridge appears to be under the direction of Britney Spears. Every time you turn around, something crazy and unexpected happens," said Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, a frequent critic of the long-delayed project.

More here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

1000 Friends of Wisconsin: 10 reasons to oppose the I-94 North-South expansion plan

1. It is not needed. The study promoting the plan ignores numerous studies that demonstrate that adding capacity to highways induces demand. In other words, “build it and they will come.” The study also fails to address that the rate of increase in vehicle miles traveled is slowing – not growing.

2. We can’t afford it. The expansion plans will cost 1.9 billion dollars. The complete freeway build out plan (the ambitious $20 billion State Highway 2020 plan) will cost more than $544 million over what we are spending on roads today. That would require the equivalent of a 16.5 cent gas tax rise to fund it.

3. It will increase property taxes. Currently, over 40% (or about $1.3 billion) of road and highway costs are shouldered by property tax payers. As the state increases spending on highway projects such as the I-94 expansion – without raising gas taxes – more of the costs are shifted to property tax payers.

4. It will add to the problems of global warming. 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in
Wisconsin are generated by the transportation sector. Even as automobiles get more fuel efficient, increases in total miles driven outpace those savings. We need to reduce miles driven – not encourage more driving.

5. There is no funding for improving transit in the corridor. Despite regional and local plans that call for increased transit service in the region, this proposal will deplete state transportation funds before transit improvements are undertaken. Expanding the highway before transit is improved essentially guarantees that the transit improvements will never be funded.

6. It will add to sprawl in the region. Highways facilitate low-density, sprawl-type
development. This inefficient development increase property taxes and induces more
automobile travel. This, in turn, deteriorates the quality of life and ultimately leads to lower property values.

7. It will harm Wisconsin’s economy in future years. As the cost of gasoline rises in the years to come, Wisconsin will need to have a transit infrastructure that allows for non-automobile travel in order to be competitive with other regions in the country. Ignoring those transit infrastructure needs will make Wisconsin less competitive in the 21st century.

8. It will harm the health of residents in the corridor. Increased traffic causes serious health problems, such as asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems, for those living near highways. Expansion will only increase the health risk for those living closer to the highway.

9. Alternatives to the expansion have been ignored. Factoring in a more realistic and lower rate of vehicle miles driven would lead to a different recommendation: reconstruct the highway in its existing footprint and improve transit options such as the KRM connector.

10. It will take money from other needed transportation improvements in Wisconsin. Unless a huge tax increase is used to offset the costs of the project, other areas of Wisconsin will have to postpone or eliminate other transportation projects.

Wisconsin should learn from Los Angeles

The entire world knows that exposure to heavy traffic can lead to some serious health problems, especially among children.

In the Wisconsin, the Department of Transportation pushes to put more freeway lanes next to schools to spew more poisons on more kids. In LA, the School Board voted to limit the district's ability to build schools near freeways, according to the Los Angeles Times.

After a string of public speakers supporting the measure and impassioned debate, the board approved a resolution calling for the school system to study airborne pollutants up to half a mile from a potential site, rather than the current quarter mile requirement. It also seeks air quality health-risk assessments for all schools, including charter schools, although officials said it is unclear whether they could force the independently run but publicly-funded schools to do so.

"Basically I'm trying to push the envelope as far as we can," said board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, who co-wrote the resolution with board member Julie Korenstein.

Flores Aguilar took on the issue after The Times reported in September that the district continued to build schools close to freeways, despite a state law discouraging it and recent studies indicating that children living near them showed signs of increased respiratory harm. About 60,000 Los Angeles Unified School District students attend campuses within 500 feet of a freeway.

The board also gave the superintendent a month to produce a list of schools where children are at the highest risk from air pollution and, by late March, to come up with a plan to reduce that exposure.

The board action does not change state law, which allows schools within 500 feet of major roadways despite the risks if the board finds the pollution "unavoidable" and overrides it.


However, Flores Aguilar said her resolution fixes a glitch in state law that did not require school systems to consider the effect of ultra-fine particles -- which researchers now believe carry the most noxious pollutants. Those particles are too small to be filtered by heating and air-conditioning systems.

WisDOT needs to go to school in LA.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Comments on the North-South Draft Environmental Impact Statement

CASH's comments on the North-South Draft Environmental Impact Statement are here.

Comments from the ACLU, attorney Dennis Grzezinski, Midwest Environmental Advocates, the Sierra Club Great Lakes chapter and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin Inc. are here. There are links within the document.

A story briefly summarizing the ACLU et al. comments is here.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I-94 North-South: For all the wrong reasons

We have to expand North-South I-94, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, because of all the people rushing to Illinois for their jobs and because...um, because...um...oh yeah-- Chicago and Milwaukee are both minority-majority communities! (What that has to do with anything I don't know, but WisDOT thinks it is important enough to include in its draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.)

So what are the facts? Milwaukee workers don't go to Illinois for jobs -- just 2/10 of 1% of Milwaukee residents commute to Chicago for work, according to census data, and just 1/10 of 1% of central city "enterprise community" residents do so.

And look how folks get to work -- it's the third and fourth map in this set.

Yes, WisDOT, there are impact disparities to this project. Maybe you should re-think it.

Noted

Road engineering firms heading the joint venture that won the big $7.7 million environmental assessment contract for the Zoo Interchange: CH2M Hill, HNTB, and Kapur & Associates.

Road engineering firms that each gave $15,000 to Gov. Jim Doyle's 2007 inauguration fund: CH2M Hill, HNTB, and Kapur & Associates.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Zoo Interchange: no expansion after all (I think)

Here is the latest from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and its confusing, contradictory information on whether traffic capacity expansion (added through lanes) will be considered during Zoo Interchange reconstruction studies.

As Donna (Brown) stated, our emphasis is to try to remain within the existing footprint of the interchange. We'll follow the NEPA process to define and identify needs along the project limits, analyze traffic and identify deficiencies in pavement and structures.

If necessary, the Zoo Interchange will be designed so that if lanes need to be added on the project in the future, they can be accommodated. The Marquette Project was designed similarly and we will follow that template to design the Zoo.

I think that means "no expansion" for now, but since that same Donna Brown insisted earlier (and none too politely) that expansion is indeed on the table, I have asked for an answer in plain English.

Hey, WisDOT -- do you think you could tell your employees what is going on before you send them out to answer questions from the public? How many people were given the wrong information at that first very well-attended Zoo Interchange open house?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

CH2M Hill accused of ripping off LA

The Los Angeles Times says that CH2M Hill, one of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's largest contractors and a firm that has been very, very generous to Gov. Jim Doyle -- firm officials even attended a fundraiser for Doyle while in the midst of negotiating a huge transportation planning contract -- has been accused of ripping off the LA Department of Water and Power to the tune of $7.7 million.

According to the Times:

Last May, an independent audit identified what appeared to be another case of a well-connected DWP contractor bilking money - some $3.3 million on a $96 million contract - for dust-mitigation work in the Owens Valley.

Now, City Controller Laura Chick has released an audit that arrives at similar conclusions, albeit a different dollar amount. According to Chick, CH2M Hill, a Denver-based engineering firm, overbilled or was overpaid some $7 million on some spotty work it oversaw for the DWP...

Now it is conceivable, we suppose, that all this overpaying is entirely the fault of an unscrupulous contractor, and that the DWP itself and city leaders bear no culpability except, perhaps, for inadequate oversight.

But that seems highly doubtful in light of the Fleishman-Hillard scandal. There, too, a well connected contractor collected millions more than it was due. And the similarities don't end there.

Both contracts were with large firms that do a lot of business headed up by political players with extensive access to City Hall. Both firms have also given generously to the campaigns of the city's top politicians.

Interesting.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Friday deadline: speak up against the I-94 N-S corridor plan

Friday is the deadline to file comments re. the ill-considered, unfunded $1.9 billion Wisconsin Department of Transportation proposal to expand North-South I-94.

To make your participation in democracy easier, please feel free to use any of the comments below. Another idea -- use the comments as a basis to come up with your own.

Jan. 25, 2008

Wisconsin Dept of Transportation
Waukesha, WI

Via FAX: 262-548-5662
Via Email: dotsefreeways94nsc@dot.state.wi.us

Objections to Expansion of I-94 N/S


Dear WisDOT:

I object to the proposed $1.9 billion I-94 highway rebuilding and expansion
project. My objections include:

Need to Prioritize Transit: I object to the state spending $1.9 billion on highways - including $200 million to add lanes to I-94 - when Wisconsin has not provided adequate state funding for existing transit systems and for widely desired planned expansions (like the KRM), and when the state requires local taxpayers to assume a vastly disproportionate share of the funding for transit. Transit is a vital resource to ensure equity for the large numbers of low income and minority residents and persons with disabilities who lack vehicles; to help reduce air pollution; to limit urban sprawl; and to improve urban development opportunities. The state needs to
prioritize AND PAY FOR those transit improvements - and it should do that before it builds yet another expanded highway. WisDOT needs to change its focus and use transit expansion to try to reduce the need for bigger highways.

Need to Prevent Loss of Milwaukee Development: I object to the construction of a new, multi-million dollar interchange at Drexel Ave., especially when WisDOT admits in the DEIS that constructing the interchange could hurt development and redevelopment efforts in the city of Milwaukee while encouraging development on unused, green, suburban land.

Air Quality and Health Effects: 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, there are at least ten schools within 500 meters of the North-South freeway
within the project area, including at least two schools virtually adjacent to the highway. There has been no meaningful analysis of how the multi-year construction itself, or increased travel generated by highway expansion, will affect the health of those students and other neighborhood residents, and no plan to prevent harm.

Environmental Effects: In addition to air pollution, the plan does not deal adequately with the loss of wetlands; the stormwater and related runoff and potential flooding and/or water pollution that paving more land for a bigger highway could cause; or the potential harm to many threatened and endangered species.

Lack of Plan to Fund Big Highways: I object to the lack of any concrete funding plan. The state needs to decide how this project will be funded before it commits to multi-billion dollar expenditures. State residents have a right to know how this will affect their taxes and transportation fees and the state s financial outlook. They also have a right to know how a project that will absorb so many resources will affect other needed projects; I am
concerned that funding shortfalls could divert even more money to big highway projects and lead to further decreases in state money for transit, and for local governments to maintain local roads. I object to the unreasonably low inflation estimatese (the DEIS uses a 3% estimate while
American Road & Transportation Builders Association reported in October that over thepast three years, "annual highway and street construction material prices have increased nearly 32 percent." And I object to the unreasonable estimate that gasoline will cost $2.30 a gallon.


Sincerely,


________________________________________________
Name

_________________________________________________
Address

__________________________________________________
City/State/Zip

Saturday, January 19, 2008

This is OUR Frank Busalacchi??!

From Progressive Railroading:

“Just in the short time this commission’s been in effect, the landscape has changed dramatically, and we need to move to mass transit,” said commissioner and Wisconsin Secretary of Transportation Frank Busalacchi. “More and more people in this country want intercity passenger rail.”

Almost sounds like he means it. Almost.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Different answers in the same room from WisDOT

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Donna Brown insisted I was trying to split hairs when I tried to ask whether capacity expansion would be part of the Zoo Interchange study. She didn't actually let me ask the question because, she said, she had seen an email earlier today and knew what I was thinking. Why let me even ask the question?

Oh.

Yeah, I love the open dialogue of WisDOT's open houses. This one was held to gather input into the design of the Zoo Interchange.

The problem is that the contract for the project's environmental assessment says that increasing system capacity will not be addressed in the study, but WisDOT says the study will lead to a decision on whether to add capacity, so I wanted to know what the straight dope was.

But I didn't ask the question and Donna Brown said I was splitting hairs. Brown also said it was too soon to know if a recommendation for expansion will come out of the environmental assessment being undertaken by WisDOT's usual cast of contractors. And, she said, where the contract for that assessment says that system capacity expansion would not be considered, it was referring to expansion outside the project area. (To be accurate, she declined to use the word "environmental assessment;" she preferred the term "environmental document.")

Next I went to a table staffed by another member of the WisDOT's Zoo Interchange team, a Mr. Flynn. He said flatly that additional through traffic lanes will not be part of the project, though they may be in the future -- or if they are recommended by some other study. Which is exactly what the contract says.

One room, two people, two different answers. The usual straight dope from WisDOT.

WisDOT playing fast and loose with the Zoo Interchange

WisDOT's contract for the environmental assessment for the Zoo Interchange makes it plain that added traffic capacity isn't to be considered. Until WisDOT says that the decision about added capacity will be made based on the study.

No kidding.

The contract says "No overall system capacity improvements will be included."

Pretty clear, right?

The most expansive design to be studied, according to the contract, is this:

Full Design and Safety Improvements - this alternative will include the improvements necessary to properly address all of the design and design-related safety deficiencies with limited exceptions such as vertical curvature or horizontal sight distances. For this alternative the design will provide all entrance and exit movements to the right hand side of the freeway, improve freeway to freeway ramp operations, minimize lane drops, provide route continuity, provide auxiliary lanes, ramp braids or collector-distributor lanes to address closely spaced interchanges, provide parallel entrance ramps, convert multi-point exits to single point exits, improve horizontal and vertical curvature, grades, and vertical clearance, provide full shoulders to minimize exceptions to standards while considering impacts and cost. This alternative will be developed in a manner to not preclude potential future capacity improvements as defined in the latest SEWRPC study. Off-system improvement concepts will be developed. No overall system capacity improvements will be included.

No mention of capacity expansion, except to say there will be none, but it shouldn't be precluded in the future.

Yet, when I asked WisDOT when a decision on expansion could be coming, this is the response I got:

Decisions will not be made regarding additional lanes on the Zoo Interchange until the environmental and engineering study is completed in 2009. It is a future decision because the preferred alternative/design hinges on the environmental study results.

WisDOT says is going to decide whether to expand the interchange based on an environmental assessment -- not even a full environmental impact statement -- that specifically does not include consideration of lane capacity.

If WisDOT is looking to build public confidence, it's failing badly. It is, again, a display of WisDOT's arrogance and belief it can push through the most poorly-planned (or completely unstudied) project.

A reminder that two public meetings on the reconstruction are coming up. The first is tonight; the second is Jan. 23.

The details:

* January 17, 2008
4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Zoofari Conference Center
9715 W. Bluemound Rd., Milwaukee
* January 23, 2008
4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
State Fair Park - Tommy
Thompson Youth Center
Gate #5, 640 S 84th Street, West Allis

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The neighborhood cemetery rep criticizes WisDOT's 27th Street plan, either

Here's are some of the concerns cited by Marianne Anderson, the owner representative of Arlington Park Cemetery, about the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's plan to close access to the 27th St. ramp for drivers coming north through the Mitchell Interchange.

  • Loss of existing / new businesses in our area.
  • Blight along 27th Street.
  • Higher crime rates.
  • Additional congestion at 27th and Layton.
  • Longer travel times for employees and visitors.
  • Added congestion to residential areas.
  • Problems for funerals arriving in procession.
  • Problems for families out of the area driving to visit or attend a service via a circuitous route.
"The consequences of the present proposal are detrimental in a myriad of ways. Your proposal lacks sufficient foresight to preserve the economy in the area and safety of travelers in the area. Your proposal will create an unsuccessful business district ripe for vandalism and crime. This is not the type of surroundings any cementery wants to be caught up in, or a situation any community should allow."

More here and here and here.

New studies -- short takes

Higher gasoline prices do translate into changed driving habits, according to a new study from the Congressional Budget Office.

Freeway motorists have adjusted to higher prices by making fewer trips and by driving more slowly. CBO analyzed data collected at a dozen metropolitan highway locations in California, along with data on gasoline prices in California, to identify changes in driving patterns. On weekdays in the study period, for every 50 cent increase in the price of gasoline, the number of freeway trips declined by about 0.7 percent in areas where rail transit is a nearby substitute for
driving; transit ridership on the corresponding rail systems increased by a commensurate amount.

Meanwhile, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission called for increasing gas taxes by 40 cents a gallon over five years. (This, of course, would be devastating to the poor, who continue not to share in the tax breaks given to the rich.)

Does the proposed increase mean the commission wants to raise gas prices to reduce car demand enough to eliminate the need for destructive freeway expansion projects? Let's hope so.

The national commission also calls for a “a cultural shift will need to take place across America to encourage our citizens to take transit or passenger rail when the option is given.”

One of the commission members was Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi, who has shown absolutely no interest in encouraging transit options. The ironies never cease.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Big, big federal tax hikes on the horizon?

The federal government may take another step to separate the "haves" from the "have-nots" -- big gas tax hikes that could be a crushing burden on a large number of drivers.

The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission is expected to announce next week its proposals for saving the federal highway trust fund, which is now projected to go broke next year. From Land Line, a publication for truckers.

The Bloomberg news agency, citing an un-named source close to the report, has declared that the “gas tax” of 18.4 cents would increase between 5 cents and 8 cents per gallon, per year, for five years.

WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi, who already engineered huge tax and fee increases in Wisconsin, is on the national commission.

Busalacchi to speak on future of transportation

From Progressive Railroading.com:

Frank Busalacchi, chairman of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission's Passenger Rail Working Group and secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, will deliver the keynote address at the first-ever Carmichael Conference on the Future of American Transportation, which will be held Jan. 28-29 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in St. Louis.

The conference is named for former Federal Railroad Administrator and Progressive Railroading columnist, and current Senior Chairman of the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver Gilbert Carmichael. The event is organized by the National Corridors Initiative (NCI) with support from the American Public Transportation Association, Association of American Railroads (AAR), American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), National Association of Railroad Passengers and Sierra Club.

That should be a short speech. How long does it take to say "more roads"?

Silly South Dakota

South Dakota is slowing down its road-building for a silly reason: no money.

Here in Wisconsin, we don't let a little thing like that stand in our highway-building dreams. We just raise taxes and fees to a point that ensures more unregistered, unlicensed drivers on the road and we tell everyone that Congress will save us with more federal highway dollars.

From the Rapid City Journal:

PIERRE -- Revenue shortfalls, a shrunken reserve and inflated construction costs will slow road construction in South Dakota in the coming year, state Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist says.

Transportation Department income for fiscal 2008 will be about $27 million less than the department's projected spending, Berquist said Thursday at a joint meeting of the House and Senate transportation committees.


Fuel-tax revenues have mostly been flat in recent years, Bergquist says. (High prices can reduce revenues because fuel taxes are figured by the gallon.)

Vehicle excise taxes also remain flat.

One of the main reasons for the shortfall is the reduction of the state Highway Trust Fund from about $90 million to less than $13 million....

He also told lawmakers that a road-construction dollar today is only worth about half its 2003 value. A product called "asphalt binder" is up 53 percent, and "gravel cushion" is up 43 percent.


That means delaying some projects, though Bergquist couldn't say which ones. "We don't even know what our federal funding for 2008 will be," he said.

Federal funds pay for about 75 percent of South Dakota highway projects. "If we don't have federal funding, we have virtually no highway construction program in this state," Bergquist said....

The long-term outlook for federal funding is not good, either. Bergquist said the Federal Highway Trust Fund would be $5 billion in the hole by 2009. If Congress does nothing, he said, federal highway spending cold decrease by $28 billion in fiscal 2009, and South Dakota could lose about $100 million.

Bergquist said he believed Congress would solve the problem; South Dakota also faces another one. The state gets back more than $2 for every $1 it pays in federal fuel taxes. In contrast, large so-called "donor" states get back less than $1. Big states want to keep that money. One proposal would let them opt out of the federal highway program and keep all their federal gas-tax money.

"That really scares us," Bergquist said.

Pederson said he had attended meetings in Washington to discuss transportation funding. He argued that rural states like South Dakota were "connector states," with highways that link urban centers. States with low populations, like South Dakota, don't have the resources to build and maintain roads for traffic that is just passing through. But Pederson said, "You can't get them to understand that."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

No added capacity for Zoo Interchange

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says added traffic capacity will not be part of the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project, but may come later. More here.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

High oil prices to stick around, most analysts say

From Bloomberg:

Christophe de Margerie, the chief executive officer of Total SA, Europe's third-largest oil company, said he expects ``high prices for a long time.''

``There's not enough production capacity to meet demand,'' de Margerie said in an interview today on Europe 1, a Paris- based radio station. ``With strong demand like today and the inability to raise production, I don't see how prices could fall strongly and quickly.''

He said the French company will ``strongly'' increase its investment budget this year from the $16 billion in 2007, adding that it will probably be raised in 2009 and 2010 as well. He warned, however, that investment decisions taken now will have an impact on capacity in five years.

A Bloomberg survey of analysts published yesterday showed crude oil may rise because of declining U.S. inventories and a weakening dollar.

Fourteen of 27 analysts surveyed, or 52 percent, said oil prices will rise through Jan. 11. Eleven of the respondents, or 41 percent, said prices will fall, and two predicted little change. Last week, 53 percent of respondents said oil would drop this week.

U.S. crude-oil inventories fell 25.1 million barrels to 289.6 million barrels in the past seven weeks, according to the Energy Department.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Alverno doesn't oppose the plan

Alverno College says its president, Mary Meehan, doesn't oppose the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's plan for 27th St. Updated post here.

Another organization rejects WisDOT's 27th Street plan

The only one who seems to like it is Frank Busalacchi, and he doesn't live, work or (I bet) shop there.

Many merchants and others located along the street think changing the ramp configuration the way WisDOT wants to will have a devastating impact on their businesses. (WisDOT's knows its unfunded $1.9 billion-plus-hundreds-of-millions-in-interest-costs proposal to expand N-S I-94 will hurt the business strip no matter what the impact of the planned ramp changes).

Here is what the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Maria Monreal-Cameron said in a letter to Busalacchi about WisDOT's proposal to limit access to the street for northbound drivers coming through the Mitchell Interchange:

"Certainly your statistics must show that scores of motorists use this particular exit in search of goods and services available on S. 27th Street. There is extensive use of the 27th street exit ramp to access a thriving and robus business district...."

Please consider the dire consequences:
  • The loss of significant revenue for the merchants who may opt to re-locate elsewhere due to the loss of convenient accessibility;
  • The "move-out" would create empty storefronts, offices and other retail outlets and result in the escalation of crime;
  • The "move out" in turn would cause a detrimental blow to the City's tax base;
  • Inaccessibility would isolate the area thereby creating a blighted business area;
  • Significant loss of employment would occur;
  • Directing northbound motorists to the Layton Street exit would increase truck and motorist traffic to a mostly residential area.
Please consider the serious and most negative impact the proposed plan would have on economic development, business retention and employment.

Oil hits $100; WisDOT pretends it doesn't

Oil hit $100 a barrel yesterday, leading the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to reconsider...nothing at all.

As driving becomes increasingly expensive, the Department is instituting huge new tax and fee increases to drive up the costs even more so WisDOT can continue to build unneeded road projects to accommodate cars their owners can no longer afford to drive. A couple of excerpts:

MILESTONE
Crude oil hits $100 a barrel
From gas to groceries, prices expected to rise
JOHN WILEN
Associated Press

Crude oil prices briefly soared to $100 a barrel Wednesday for the first time, reaching that milestone amid an unshakeable view that global demand for oil and petroleum products will outstrip supplies.

With oil at a once unfathomable price, consumers can expect the cost of filling their gas tanks, heating their homes, buying airline tickets, paying for package delivery and many other routine expenses to also keep rising.

"These higher prices will flow throughout the economy," said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citigroup. "The more difficult question would be to find a product that does not have an energy component."

Still, analysts don't expect record-high prices by themselves to send the economy into recession, simply because expensive as oil is, energy doesn't consume as big a chunk of Americans' budget as it did decades ago.

Surging economies in China and India fed by oil and gasoline have sent oil prices soaring over the past year, while tensions in oil producing nations such as Nigeria and Iran have increasingly made investors nervous and invited speculators to drive prices even higher.

From the New York Times:

HOUSTON — Oil prices briefly reached $100 a barrel on Wednesday, a long-awaited milestone in an era of rapidly escalating energy demand and tightening supplies.

Crude oil futures for February delivery hit $100 on the New York Mercantile Exchange shortly after noon when a single trader bid up the price by buying a modest lot and then sold it immediately at a small loss. Prices eased somewhat in later trading, settling at $99.62.

But while the trader was apparently looking for vanity bragging rights, the spike in crude prices of $3.64 for the day reflected deeper worldwide trends, including the surge in energy demand from China, India and the oil-producing countries themselves.

“We’re starting the year with a bang,” said Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst for Oppenheimer & Company. “It’s the same usual suspects: the bad, bad world out there, a cold winter and declining oil inventories.”

The immediate impetus for the price rise appeared to come from an attack by rebels in the Nigerian oil center of Port Harcourt and rough weather in the Gulf of Mexico that slowed Mexican oil exports.

The price of oil has been flirting with the $100 mark for months, and in recent weeks there has been added price pressure because of turbulence in Pakistan following the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, which may threaten further unrest in the Middle East.

There is no shortage of explanations for the escalation of oil prices by about 60 percent over the last year. The price of a barrel was below $25 as recently as 2003 and, almost unimaginably, below $11 in 1998, a time when there was a glut in the world oil markets.

Booming economies in recent years have led to more consumption of oil-derived products like gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. Political tensions in countries like Nigeria, Venezuela and Iran have threatened world supplies, while important fields in Mexico, the United States and other countries are aging and producing less.

Big oil companies, though flush with cash from record profits, are having trouble finding promising new fields to increase supplies. Newly found fields in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Brazil will take years to develop.

The Bush administration has further tightened supplies by announcing that it would add to the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the coming weeks, a move that some leading Democrats have urged President Bush to call off to ease the tight oil market.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Alverno College president looks for alternatives

Updated 1/3 because, Alverno communications vp Michael Harryman said, Alverno Meehan does not oppose the plan. "Alverno College is interested in helping our neighbors on 27th Street find a solution that provides a safe driving environment for motorists as well as access to businesses," he said.

Alverno College President Mary J. Meehan is asking the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to look again at its plan to limit access to the 27th Street area for drivers coming northbound through the Mitchell Interchange. It could have negative impacts on the neighborhood.

It would be a lot easier to come up with an acceptable alternative with a six-lane freeway rather than with the eight-lane monstrosity WisDOT is pushing. (The department's draft environmental impact statement says that freeway expansion will benefit the suburbs over the city and save minimal driving time; foregoing expansion will likely encourage more development closer to downtown.)

Excerpts from Meehan's letter to WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi:

While we at Alverno certainly understand the need to address the safety concerns that this current ramp configuration presents, we are also very concerned with the impact a move like this could hold for the 27th Street business district; a corridor that is just beginning to grow and one that is vitally important to our community and our constituents....

Please understand that while we feel safety is paramount, and entire neighborhood and community could be severely and negatively impacted by shifting traffic patterns in this manner. Alverno College itself represents more than 2600 students and 500 employees, most of whom patronize businesses on and around 27th. However, our college campus cannot sustain these businesses; they depend on traffic from the 27th Street exits to funnel patrons into this corridor.