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.”