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have demonstrated that the assumptions which underlay SEWRPC's projections of ever-increasing traffic volumes are no longer applicable....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.

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