Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Where's that Doyle transit plan?

Remember back in July, after Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a sales tax increase for transit, he promised his own transit funding plan in a couple of weeks?

It's September now.

Where's that plan, governor?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

WisDOT budget shortfall? You're KIDDDDING

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is running into a budget shortfall when people are driving less, the country is in a deep recession and the agency is still enamored of magic budgeting. (That's when WisDOT overschedules huge, massively expensive road projects and then collectively closes its eyes and just wishes, wishes real hard that the money to pay for them will somehow just appear.)

The road lobbyists are all pretending that the $49.1 million shortfall signals some fundamental flaw with the state's transportation funding method and that even more money should be picked from taxpayers' pockets and forked over to the road construction firms that will show their gratitude by funneling some of that money into campaign fund accounts or, in as was the case with Gov. Doyle, into his inauguration party fund.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

WisIDIOT kannot spel

From the Wausau Herald:

Highway sign for Business Highway 51 in Rothschild, Schofield misspells every word but ‘exit,’ Wisconsin Department of Transportation points to company named Decker

Wausau Daily Herald

A sign pointing southbound travelers onto Business Highway 51 in Rothschild and Schofield bears an incorrect spelling for every word except “exit.”

David Vieth, director of the bureau of highway operations for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the mistake was made by Decker Supply Company of Madison, which printed the sign.

The sign for exit 185 on southbound Highway 51 reads “Buisness 51 Rothschield Schofeild.”

“How do I politely say it shows some incompetence on someone’s part?” said Rothschild Village President Neal Torney.

Highway organization funding dwarfs transit

From our friends at streetsblog.com:

The American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials, or AASHTO, is the road lobby's leading voice, reporting more than $53 million in annual revenue on its most recent publicly available Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filing.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which represents local transit agencies as well as companies involved in transit networks, reported $21 million in annual revenue in its most recent IRS filing.

Highways have a better than 2-to1 funding advantage over transit even for their respective national organizations!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Six-lane Zoo Interchange option endorsed by council

It happened quick, without discussion. The Common Council on Tuesday endorsed a six-lane option for the Zoo Interchange reconstruction.

It was over in an instant, 13-2 (I think). More later.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

$2.3 billion does not come close to real Zoo Interchange project costs

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation isn't coming anywhere close to the entire truth when it says the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project will cost $2.3 billion.

That is way, way, way too low.

First, it doesn't include interest on bonding. If WisDOT bonds half the project cost (roughly its share of the Marquette Interchange project costs), or $1.15 billion, over 30 years at 7% interest, its interest payments alone will total about $1.6 billion.

Yup, interest paid out of the public pocket on Zoo Interchange bonding could amount to more than twice the base cost of the entire Marquette Interchange reconstruction project.

You can certainly play with the numbers -- a 4% interest rate would mean $835 million in interest payments and a 4% rate with a 20-year payback would mean $532 million in interest payments.

But interest payments are not the only cost WisDOT is conveniently not talking about. The agency's draft environmental impact statement discusses the need to move many, many utility towers that are in the way of the proposed freeway. Some of those costs are included in the $2.3 billion project cost that WisDOT cites, but it is likely that millions and millions and millions in costs related to moving the towers will be incurred by We Energies and American Transmission Co. and, of course, its ratepayers.

WisDOT isn't talking about those costs because they are not state costs. They are, however, our costs, ones we will all be paying through our utility bills. Those costs need to be part of the discussion.

WisDOT has an obligation to the public to talk about the total bill for the Zoo Interchange before design decisions on the project are made.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In which WisDOT shows its demographic ignorance

This shocker just in from the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Zoo Interchange reconstruction:

"Wauwatosa West and Whitman Elementary Schools have a lower minority percentage than the neighborhoods surrounding the schools."

Minority enrollment at each of those schools is about 30%. Anyone who knows the least bit about western Wauwatosa, where those schools are located, knows that the minority populations in those immediate neighborhoods are nowhere near 30%. (The city as a whole is about 94% white, according to the 2000 census.)

There are not many ways to look at this gross misstatement of fact: either WisDOT knew that its assertion was false, but made it anyway, which is fairly hard to believe; the folks at Madison-based WisDOT are truly that ignorant about Milwaukee demographics; or WisDOT is careless in preparing project documents and readers should be wondering what else it got exactly wrong in this one, the agency's justification for launching a $2 billion plus construction project.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Zoo Interchange comment deadline extended

Aug. 10 is the new deadline for submitting comments on the Zoo Interchange preliminary environmental impact statement. The city requested the extension from the original July 13 deadline to allow the Common Council more time to develop a position on the document. The Federal Highway Administration approved the request.

Comments should be submitted to:

Jim Lipstack, project manager
Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Southeast Region
141 N.W. Barstow St.
Waukesha, WI 53187


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Zoo Interchange would destroy part of butterfly habitat

A section of the Milwaukee County Grounds, near the Eschweiler buildings, is widely known as a resting place for Monarch butterflies as they migrate to Mexico.

Even WisDOT recognizes that, and then says it wants to destroy part of it.

From the preliminary environmental impact statement for the proposed Zoo Interchange reconstruction project.

During the study, a local conservationist and Monarch butterfly observer noted that a large migratory population of Monarch butterflies uses the Milwaukee County Grounds, near the
Eschweiler Buildings. This location is part of a corridor used by the Monarch butterflies as part of their migration path every year; most heavily used from late August through September as the Monarch butterflies migrate south. The greatest concentration of Monarch butterflies on the grounds can be found in trees near the Eschweiler Buildings. The butterflies use the trees in this area for roosting and adjacent meadow, including a berm along US 45, for nectaring. The berm may also enhance the attractiveness of the site by providing a wind break. While there is a population of Monarch butterflies in the study area, they have no special regulatory protection.

And then this:

The Modernization Alternatives would not affect the trees adjacent to the Eschweiler Buildings that are used by the Monarch butterflies for roosting. The southern half of the berm, between US 45 and the nectaring area, would be removed under both Modernization Alternatives. This would remove some of the nectaring area and part of the wind break that increases the area’s attractiveness to the Monarchs. The northern part of the berm would still provide a wind break for the roosting area and the northern part of the nectaring meadow.

And this:

3.17.3 Measures to Mitigate Adverse Wildlife Impacts
None identified.

So WisDOT wants to destroy part of the butterfly trail. What is the impact of that? Will the butterflies settle for only part of a berm and wind break? Will the added noise and pollution from the closer, bigger freeway scare them off or kill them? Will the cumulative impact of the potential freeway project and the proposed construction of the UWM engineering school harm the habitat?

WisDOT doesn't even consider those things. After all, as the agency notes, the butterflies "have no special regulatory protection."

They are just in the way.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Zoo Interchange public hearings this week

Public hearings on the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project will be held Tuesday and Wednesday at State Fair Park.

We use the term "public hearing" very loosely, because the Wisconsin Department of Transportation does not allow members of the public to listen to what other members of the public have to say. Hearing participants must give their testimony to a court reporter, in private. Yes, it can be intimidating. That is the point.

Anyway, the hearings will be from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday (June 23) and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (Wednesday, June 24). Both will be conducted at the Tommy Thompson Youth Center at State Fair Park Gate #5, 640 S. 84th Street in West Allis.

This is a good opportunity to weigh in against WisDOT's over-the-top plans for the interchange. The agency is putting the price tag of the project, with lane expanion, at $2.3 billion, which is so deceptively low it is almost laughable. The project will require huge expenditures by utility companies to move their infrastructure, adding significantly to the cost of the project. Not all of those costs show up in WisDOT project estimates, though, because they will be borne by utility ratepayers and not through the transportation fund.

In addition, WisDOT's plans will have a domino effect, if implemented -- WisDOT does A, which will require local municipalities to reconstruct B, C and D. Again, because those costs are local, WisDOT doesn't count them when totaling up Zoo Interchange costs.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Senate budget gives Oak Creek an interchange

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation would pick up Oak Creek's $3.75 million tab for a new I-94 interchange in Oak Creek, under the version of the state budget adopted by the State Senate last night.

The amount is the local share that Oak Creek was expected to kick if it wanted the interchange included in the I-94 North-South reconstruction project. Oak Creek was expected to contribute 25% of the interchange costs.

Even WisDOT acknowledges that construction of the interchange at Drexel Ave. will hurt redevelopment of older commercial areas in the City of Milwaukee.

That not a single Milwaukee Dem spoke out against this proposal is shameful. That WisDOT is expected to pick up Oak Creek's cost for an unneeded, harmful interchange while at the same time the agency is slashing its mowing and routine maintenance efforts statewide is a bad, bitter joke on taxpayers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Michigan cuts back on mowing, too

The Michigan Department of Transportation is, like Wisconsin, cutting back on its mowing schedule.

From the Detroit News:

When it comes to Michigan's freeways, cost-cutting is in and grass-cutting is out.
To save as many greenbacks as possible, the Michigan
Department of Transportation is making fewer trips to state roadways to mow the slopes, trim trees and pare bushes.
Grosse Pointe resident Suzi Padilla, who does most of her east-side driving on Interstate 94, understands the reason; she just doesn't like the results.

"It bothers me because it makes our city look bad," Padilla said. "For people coming in from Metro Airport, it's their first greeting to the city. It looks terrible. There's probably a lot of garbage caught in the high grass, so that when they do cut it, all this garbage is going to show up."

For MDOT, doing next to nothing has become the economical thing to do. The agency hopes to save up to $30 million this year in labor and fuel costs by mowing and trimming less often.
"The economy is in terrible shape, plus we've had two really tough winters in a row," said MDOT spokesman Bill Shreck. "I think we ended up going $30 million over budget for last winter's maintenance, which means our summer budget is much tighter. We will still concentrate on safety issues -- such as trimming and mowing to maintain good sight distances -- rather than mowing for cosmetic reasons."

According to Shreck, MDOT's maintenance budget is $300 million, which includes salting and plowing, repairing potholes, fixing guardrails, maintaining drains and mowing the freeways.
To save money, MDOT -- which owns or is responsible for nearly 9,600 miles of Michigan's 119,500 miles of roads as well as 4,400 bridges -- will cut once or twice a summer versus three or more in normal years.

Michigan's DOT argues that cutting back on mowing will provide more naturalized, environmentally friendly rights of way, but that is a load of highway litter. Maintaining naturalized green areas is amazingly labor intensive -- what the cutbacks in cutting will produce is a lot of invasive species running rampant through communities.

Monday, June 15, 2009

WisDOT on mowing (or not)

I asked WisDOT about its new (non)-mowing policy and got the following response by spokesperson Peg Schmitt.

The department has refocused its routine maintenance efforts to assure that essential safety activities are being accomplished. Mowing is one such activity where the benefits are generally related to aesthetics. In order to achieve the essential safety needs, the department has re-directed efforts away from mowing and certain other activities.

The information about refocusing work priorities was shared with counties in April. Counties were informed service to be provided is mowing only a shoulder cut, once a season, with one mower pass (no aesthetic cleanup). The exception is for spot locations where vision is a safety issue for that specific area. Mowing for woody vegetation to the clear zone shall not be done as a standalone work activity, but shall be accomplished with the normal shoulder cut.

The changes apply to the entire state highway system, affecting rural and urban highways, and all roads from low speed roadways to Interstate highways. As noted above, mowing that is directly safety related, typically to provide a clear vision corner at public road intersections, will continue as in the past.

The change is not driven by immediate fiscal concerns. Rather it is the obligation the department has to address the most essential needs first. It is true that fiscal realities play a role in the ability to serve the full range of desired activities. At the same time, it is irresponsible to continue providing lower value services when higher priority needs are not being adequately served. The responsibility to first serve essential safety needs before putting effort into tasks that address mobility, ride and comfort, or aesthetics is a long term obligation that will remain in effect and only change if there is some other determination as to the highest priority services to be accomplished.

There are a few other situations where an exception may be considered. For example, when establishing new turf the department typically mows the planted area for two seasons under a regimen that is designed to improve the quality of the turf. There is also the potential that exceptions could be warranted based on other conditions that could be related to the growing conditions or perhaps fire danger potentials. The department will continue to assess such situations as needed and determine whether exceptions may be warranted.

This service direction may also need to be modified due to new funding constraints that are contingent on the biennial budget that is under consideration by the legislature.
The guidance for when the mowing is done is developed by the department. The department’s regional maintenance coordinators work with individual counties to share the guidance and establish work priorities.

US DOT Secretary LaHood: ignored in Wisconsin

It's easy to appreciate US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's commitment to Transportation methods other than the automobile.

From a New York Times Q and A:

President Obama has talked about his desire to wean Americans off automobiles. What we’ve talked about is getting to a concept that we call livable communities, where people don’t have to get in a car every day. You can use light rail, you can use buses, you can use walking paths, you can use your bike.

The conservative columnist George Will recently denounced you as the “secretary of behavior modification,” in reference to your plan to have Americans give up cars.
When George came over here for lunch, I could tell from the tone of our conversation that he wasn’t particularly keen on what we were trying to promote here.

If the Obama / LaHood team think George Will is hostile, wait til it gets better acquainted with the Jim Doyle / Frank Busalachhi team. All highways, all the time. Alternative transportation to the state guys mean converting a six-lane freeway into an eight-lane freeway.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

WisDOT: the neighbor from hell

Just once.

That's how often the Wisconsin Department of Transportation will have its thousands of miles of rights of way mowed this year.

Just once. And it will be just a partial mow.

Interim Milwaukee County Public Works Director Jack Takerian told county officials that WisDOT delivered the news last month. The state pays counties to maintain state highways.

"Mowing - Efforts will be reduced," Takerian wrote in a memo. "The service to be provided is mowing only a shoulder cut, once a season, with one mower pass (no aesthetic cleanup). The exception is for spot locations where vision is a safety issue for that specific area. Mowing for woody vegetation in the clear zone shall not be done as a stand-alone work activity, but shall be accomplished with the normal shoulder cut. Such mowing will be in accordance with the thresholds and cycles prescribed in the WisDOT maintenance manual. Should the Milwaukee County decide to cut more than WisDOT has approved we would be doing so at our own expense."

Once a year. WisDOT officially risen to the level of "neighbor from hell." Not only will state-owned highways look awful, the invasives that WisDOT has been breeding there for the past several years won't even be cut down in a timely fashion, allowing them to flower, seed and spread.

There's more. WisDOT, ever happier building new highways, doesn't want the county performing routine maintenance on the existing ones.

"Preventative Maintenance and non-emergency concrete repair are considered non-critial and do not meet the State threshold for routine maintenance priorities," Takerian wrote.

The state is looking at other ways to get these things done, he said.

Meanwhile, while the state is looking, roads deteriorate.

And when WisDOT does get around to trying take care of its property, the problems will be much bigger and much, much more expensive to fix.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Spend, baby, spend -- even if you don't have it

The federal Highway Trust Fund is near empty again.

From the Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said as much as $17 billion in additional federal money is needed to maintain roads and bridges over the next two years, underscoring the challenges policy makers face as driving habits change.

The recession and gas-price increases over the past two years have caused many consumers to drive less and switch to more fuel-efficient cars. The result has been a fall in revenue from taxes on gasoline and vehicle purchases, which are used to fund state and local transportation projects.
The highway trust fund will need an injection of as much as $7 billion by September or states would not receive all the money they are counting on to finance construction projects later this year, the administration said.

In addition, the fund will need as much as $10 billion more, or roughly 25% of what it distributes to states each year for road work, in the 12 months after September, the administration said.

"The administration is working closely with Congress to solve this difficult problem and ensure that states have the resources they need to maintain our roads and highways," a White House spokesman said on Tuesday. He declined to offer any specific solution.

The State Department of Transportation is looking for help from the fund with the $1.9 billion North-South I-94 reconstruction and expansion project and will eventually have its hand out for the $2.3 billion Zoo Interchange reconstruction and expansion project.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Oil rises; WisDOT plows ahead

Oil hit $67.52 a barrel yesterday, a six-month high.

As the Wall Street Journal reported:

Oil prices are now double their 2009 low on the prospect that demand will soon begin to improve, providing relief from bulging crude stockpiles. For evidence, investors have looked to economic indicators showing a slower rate of decline in the U.S. and, more recently, signs that China's economic engine is revving back up.

Prices will undoubtedly soar much higher when people actually start finding jobs and housing stops cratering.

And still the Wisconsin Department of Transportation pushes freeways instead of transit. A bad policy decision if ever there was one.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Zoo Interchange plans omit transit considerations

The $2.3 billion price tag for Zoo Interchange reconstruction includes absolutely nothing for potential future transit integration.

Zero. Zip. Nada.

No potential for rail to the County Grounds, Mayfair, Highway 100, or Miller Park (east of the project area) is considered.

Employers, meanwhile, are crying out for a modern transit system that can get workers to and from jobs.

WisDOT, instead, looks only cramming more cars on to bigger roads, both freeways and local streets. More on this later.

The very likely long delay in Zoo Interchange reconstruction provides a very appropriate opportunity to reconsider and correct the bad decision to ignore transit in the study.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WisDOT revenue could decline: tax hikes on the way?

There are fewer miles being driven in fewer new trucks, depriving the Wisconsin Department of Transportation of funds needed for unneeded highway projects.

Are stealth taxes on the way? Indeed, we could very well be headed back to the days when state legislators, too timid to vote for tax increases they favor, make the increases automatic.

The only thing keeping the transportation fund growing over the next two years is Gov. Doyle's proposed oil company profits tax, according to projections by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Almost all of the $265 million in new revenue contained in the governor's proposed transportation budget comes from the oil fee, according to the LFB memo.

"Without these tax and fee changes, net transportation fund revenues would fall by 1.1% in 2009-10, relative to 2008-09, and by 0.3% in 2010-11, relative to 2009-10, due primarily to falling motor fuel tax collections and increasing revenue bond debt service," the memo said.

Since the oil tax seems to have a very slim chance of ultimate survival and since Doyle must keep the road builders fat, happy and busy because he is beholden to their campaign largesse and since he recently is opinining in favor of automatic gas tax indexing (which he recently opposed), get ready to pay more to drive less.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Obama: Highway hype, big time

President Obama declared this week that stimulus-funded transportation projects were coming in ahead of schedule and under budget.

What?! How would he know? Most of the projects aren't done; they aren't even started. Obama's press event was simply an opportunity to lay it on thick for an unquestioning press corp.

What will happen if massive cost overruns start occurring in two years? Who will pay those bills?

The stimulus package is funding some needed transportation projects and some silly, wasteful ones like expansion of North-South I-94 from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line. In addition, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation seems intent on sending regional stimulus money to Washington County and uber-rich River Hills, where it is needed far less than it is needed in Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

Come on, Mr. President. Pay attention to what is happening, and quit trying to sell as real what hasn't happened yet and perhaps never will.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Arthritis, highway proximity linked

Rheumatoid arthritis is a nasty, crippling disease.

Now the New York Times reports it may be linked to living near a highway.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Carpenter calls for halt to throwing money away on I-94 expansion; Bauman agrees

State Sen. Tim Carpenter this week called for the state to abandon its plan to expand North-South I-94, an effort that was applauded Thursday by Milwaukee Ald. Robert Bauman.

In announcing his opposition to freeway expansion, Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) cited findings from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's on environmental impact statement on the project.

"Reconstructionof this freeway is needed; expansion is not," he said. "Adding more lanes would increase the cost of the project by about $200 million to a total of $1.9 billion, but would provide littled ifference in travel times or any other significant benefit.”

That $200 million could create jobs related to fixing streets that are desperately in need of repair, he said.

"We should allow cities and towns to use such funds for greatly needed local road reconstruction, and pothole, sewer and water systems repair,” he said.

Gov. Jim Doyle and Transportation Secretary Frank Busalachhi are pushing ahead with freeway expansion, despite its limited benefits and high cost.

Spending $200 million on expanding the freeway “is an extravagance," Carpenter said. "It is not in the best of interests of Wisconsin taxpayers or drivers. When millions are needed for local infrastructure repair, spending $200 million on this freeway expansion is not prudent."

Bauman, in supporting Carpenter's stance, said that spending $200 million on expandion "is a massive waste of money during tough economic times that could and should be used instead to fix local streets and create job opportunities here.”

Bauman said the city's street pains are outlined in the findings of a comptroller's report. Among them:
  • 214 miles (approx. 20% of the city’s streets) are in “poor” condition and require “immediate replacement.”
  • Milwaukee has a total of 1,415 miles of roadway of which 1,024 miles are local residential streets (the others are state highways, arterials and collectors).
  • 448 miles (43%) of local streets are in fair condition; and 361 miles (35%) are in good condition.
  • The average age of local streets is 41.7 years.
  • The average life of a local street is 50 years.
  • The average cost to replace a mile of local street is $910,000.
  • The current replacement cycle for local streets is 106 years.
  • City budgets have underfunded local street replacement/reconstruction for at least two decades.
  • The 2009 city budget appropriated $10.3 million for local street onstruction/replacement.
  • The city would need to appropriate approximately $25.5 Million per year to achieve a 1:1 ratio of service life to replacement cycle (replacement of 28 miles of local streets per year).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Milwaukee stiffed again

It does not look like Milwaukee will get any road improvements with stimulus money, at least for now, although River Hills likely will fare nicely.

A Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission committee will meet Friday morning to consider three projects for funding. They are:
  • Reconstruction with additional traffic lanes of CTH Q between USH 41 and Pilgrim Road in Washington County—$3,500,000
  • Reconstruction with additional traffic lanes of CTH Y between CTH Q and STH 175 in Washington County—$3,658,000
  • Bridge rehabilitation of River Road bridge (1.2 Miles North of CTH P) over Indian CreekRiver in the Village of River Hills—$307,734

These selections, advanced to SEWRPC by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, seems to totally ignore federal direction that priority be given to projects in economically distressed areas.

What a travesty.

The SEWRPC committee will meet to discuss this at 9:30 a.m. Friday in the Milwaukee County Downtown Transit Center Harbor Lights Room, 909 E. Michigan St.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yunker says his message was incomplete

Ken Yunker, executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, said he sent an incomplete email when he said, in response to a query about the agency's stimulus spending outreach effort: "I expect the Milwaukee area to discuss this."

What he meant to say, according to Yunker, is this: “I expect the Milwaukee area Advisory Committee on Transportation Planning and Programming will discuss this at their March 20 meeting.”

Consider a skeptical eyebrow to be raised.

Anyway, Yunker said he did indeed as the committee for ideas on public involvement and outreach, but the members had absolutely none.

"We would expect to hold at least one public meeting perhaps during the week of April 6 to explain the funding available, describe the project selection process, and review the candidate projects deemed by WisDOT to be eligible for stimulus funding," Yunker wrote.

Local governments and transit operators -- not SEWRPC -- will submit project proposals to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Yunker said.

"The Commission will receive sometime after April 1 a list of the potential FHWA funded projects which WisDOT determines would be eligible for stimulus funding(projects which can be completed within the necessary timeframe)," he wrote. "These projects will be provided to the Commission’s Advisory Committee on Transportation System Planning and Programming who will determine of the potential projects those to be selected for funding. The Commission has always approved the recommendations of this Advisory Committee."

Monday, March 23, 2009

That $8 million must have been burning a hole in WisDOT's pocket

WisDOT's desire to build a taxpayer-funded interchange for an individual developer led the state agency to spend $8.8 million on preparation and land acquisition for the interchange, even though the mall it is supposed to benefit isn't there and may never be there.

How the heck did this happen? Hey, WisDOT, next time you are going to sing the blues about funding shortfalls, take a look at the millions you waste every year.

Thanks to Jim Bouman for digging this one up.

ACLU weighs in on SEWRPC dismissiveness

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's decision to decide how to spend $38.7 million in stimulus money without public input or outreach violated the agency's own written standards and may have violated civil rights law as well, according to ACLU attorney Karyn Rotker.

"The process for discussing the allocation of stimulus dollars, as well as, potentially, the allocation itself, appears to violate civil rights requirements," Rotker wrote to SEWRPC Executive Director Ken Yunker. "Please note that civil rights compliance requirements do apply to the stimulus program, including to the distribution of stimulus funds."

A memo from the Justice Department confirming the applicability of civil rights laws is here.

A SEWRPC committee began meeting Friday to decide how to divvy up the cash. When asked what kind of public outreach efforts the agency would make, Yunker said only that "I expect the Milwaukee area to discuss this."

The committee, according to the Daily Reporter newspaper, did agree to give special consideration to projects in economically distressed areas.

Wrote Rotker: "I strongly object to SEWRPC’s failure to comply with its public involvement program in general, to involve its Environmental Justice Task Force (which is meeting next week) in the process, or to ensure that diverse communities are involved in the decision making process...no notice was sent to interested parties, and there is no public comment period at the meeting (or at any other stated time)."

Rotker noted that SEWRPC failed to meet standards outlined in its own public participation plan for transportation projects. SEWRPC, in that plan, said it would provide "timely notification of, and provision of access to, Commission regional transportation planning and programming activities will be achieved to encourage early and continuous public participation."

SEWRPC also promised, Rotker said, that "beyond...efforts to notify and inform, and obtain input from, the general public, the Commission will seek opportunities to notify and inform, and obtain input from, those most likely to be impacted by transportation proposals. The Commission will, for example, contact community groups of an affected and concerned area, and offer briefings and presentations to those groups at meetings held expressly for that purpose or during regularly scheduled meetings of those groups. Outreach contacts and materials will be done in user-friendly, lay language. Outreach efforts will also particularly be made to notify and inform, and obtain input from, low-income and minority populations."

Friday, March 20, 2009

SEWRPC's total failure

Below is my question to SEWRPC Executive Director Ken Yunker re. the agency's efforts at communicating with the public about how it should spend about $67 million in federal stimulus funds. It's followed by Yunker's response, which demonstrates once more that SEWRPC just doesn't get it.

The question is actually the second time I asked it. The first time, Yunker just ignored it.

Q: And what will you be doing for public outreach and public input?
A: I expect the Milwaukee area to discuss this.

Totally, totally unacceptable. That is not public outreach. It is passive inertia. There is no vehicle for public input or feedback, nor is there any pro-active effort to inform the public what the agency is considering. At the very least, this topic ought to be on next week's agenda for the SEWRPC Environmental Justice Task Force.

It's not, though. Big surprise.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SEWRPC gets ready to decide: no public input, thank you

A SEWRPC committee is meeting at 9:30 a.m. in downtown Milwaukee tomorrow (March 20) to start deciding how to spend federal stimulus money to the tune of $38.7 million in Federal Highway Administration surface transportation program funds and $28.5 million in Federal Transit Administration formula funds.

You would think, given President Obama's emphasis on transparency in this process, that SEWRPC would go to great lengths to let people know what it is up to with this particular $67.2 million. As usual, however, public outreach and involvement is not the SEWRPC way.

As of yesterday, if you knew that the SEWRPC committee to debate the spending priorities was the Advisory Committee on Transportation System Planning and Programming for the Milwaukee Urbanized Area, you could go to the SEWRPC web site and find the agenda by clicking on the "Meetings and Agendas" link and then clicking on the committee name. The fact that the chances of you knowing all that are just about nil did not figure into SEWRPC's calculations.

SEWRPC, as far as I know, made absolutely no effort to publicize this critical debate, or invite public input. How about this for SEWRPC's stimulus motto? "It's your money -- now shut up about it."

Sometime between yesterday and today, after CASH inquired about it, the meeting notice was added to the front page of the SEWRPC web site. This means that if you happened to be perusing the front page of that particular web site in the past 24 hours, you could find out the time and location of this meeting.

You do read the SEWRPC web site on a daily basis, don't you?

I asked Yunker specifically what efforts SEWRPC was making to get public input, but Yunker didn't answer the question when he responded to my email. I asked again Wednesday, but did not get any answer at all.

The meeting, by the way, is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. in the Milwaukee County Downtown Transit Center's Harbor Lights Room, 909 E. Michigan St. The agenda does not include any time for public comment or input.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SEWRPC: another shoddy job

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, in developing a key transportation plan, failed to consider key demographic data, overstated the amount of money invested in transit and misrepresented highway funding, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

In one section of its 2009-20012 Transportation Improvement Program SEWRPC "purports to show that only about $227 million is going to highway 'improvements,'" ACLU-Wisconsin attorney Karyn Rotker wrote in comments submitted to SEWRPC. Buried elsewhere, she said, are estimates that, when added, put the highway total for 2009 alone at $346 million.

SEWRPC asserts in the document that transit will receive more than one-third of 2009 expenditures, Rotker wrote.

"By showing the distribution of only the 2009 expenditures -- which includes more than half the projected transit expansion costs for the entire four-year period -- the TIP hides the fact that transit expenditures will constitute a significantly smaller percentage of improvements than SEWRPC asserts," she said.

SEWRPC also failed to include key demographic data, including the following:
  • The US Census Bureau identified the Milwaukee-Waukesha region as, overall, the most racially segregated region in the country for African-Americans.
  • 60% of African-American adults in Milwaukee live in households with no vehicles, compared to 14% of adult whites in the city.
  • Fewer than half of African-American and Hispanic adults in Milwaukee County have valid drivers' licenses, compared to 73% of white adults in the county.

"Consequently, African-American and Latino residents of southeastern Wisconsin benefit far less than non-Hispanic white persons from highway expansion and major road improvements, while being far more burdened by reductions in transit service and fare increases," she wrote.

The federal stimulus bill allows surface transportation funds, not just Federal Transit Administration funds, to be used for transit development, she said.

"SEWRPC should prioritize transit development and necessary road repairs in economically distressed areas with these funds," she said. "At the same time, projects -- especially highway improvements and expansions -- that are not in economically distressed areas should be given far lower priority."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

More emissions on the way?

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation likes to try to peddle the hallucenigenic argument that adding more lanes and more cars to freeways will not increase unhealthy emissions because, in part, air pollution has been trending downward anyway (Yeah, and the housing industry will never crash because it was doing so well five years ago.)

There now is a proposal to increase to 15% the allowable limit of ethanol in gasoline. The current limit is 10.

The New York Times reported that there is some opposition to the proposal.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers joined refiners and several environmental groups in warning that a higher blend level of ehtanol in gasoline would "lead to increased air emissions from gasoline-powered engines and potentially endanger consumers using these engines."

WisDOT has shown very little interest in protecting people from harm that will be inflicted through its freeway expansion plans. Vehicle emissions are bad for living things -- it's that simple. The potential of increased emissions because of ethanol should give WisDOT pause in its freeway expansion frenzy, but don't count on it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Doyle, tolls, and Lexus lanes

Gov. Jim Doyle told the JS that the state doesn't have enough transportation funding. Along the way, he said the Zoo Interchange project might have to be delayed (given his recommended funding levels for the Environmental Impact Statement it will be delayed), gutted the reasoning behind expanding North-South I-94, potentially nullfied that project's Environmental Impact Statement and floated the ideas of toll roads and Lexus lanes.

And all in one interview!

Impressive, but it took Mayor Tom Barrett only three sentences to remind Doyle of the embarrassing neglect the state has heaped upon local roads. From hizzoner the mayor:

"We are still missing the fundamental point. We have to have a better balance between local road maintenance and state highway expansion. I'm certainly not excited about any type of toll roads for state highway expansion without addressing the fundamental issue of how we pay for local road maintenance."

Perhaps Doyle's most outrageous idea was turning the planned fourth lanes of North-South I-94 into Lexus lanes, open to motorists willing and able to pay special tolls to use them. The Department of Transportation's shoddy planning and work on the EIS for the project already has led to a civil rights complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union. That complaint, among other things, alleges that WisDOT itself acknowledges that adding the lanes will have only minimal effects on travel times and will hurt efforts to redevelop older commercial strips in Milwaukee, where joblessness and poverty are high. WisDOT did not evaluate the project or transit alternatives as required under civil rights law, according to the complaint.

The ACLU also notes that WisDOT rejected a request from the City of Milwaukee -- the state's only minority-majority city -- not to add the lanes.

And now the governor is talking about economically segregating those additional lanes! Milwaukee residents will suffer most of the consequences of freeway expansion -- the increased noise, air pollution, potential flooding and polluted runoff -- but would be least likely to be able to use that added lane, given the poverty statistics.

In addition, a segregated lane could defeat the stated purpose of expansion, which is to ease overall congestion. If the lane for rich people moves smoothly, but the lanes for the rest of us don't, has WisDOT accomplished its mission? If one lane moves smoothly, but three lanes don't, doesn't that gut WisDOT's already absurd argument that adding lanes reduces air pollution? And do we really want to damage economic development efforts in Milwaukee by expanding the freeway so rich people can drive faster?

WisDOT argues that adding lanes is good for neighborhoods because, without the additional capacity, cars will leave crowded freeways and use city streets instead, jamming local streets and irritating neighborhood residents (WisDOT generally overlooks the benefits of street traffic to businesses that rely on it). If the added I-94 lanes are only for people who can pay for them, what will keep people on the other three still-jammed lanes from leaving the freeway to crowd on those same city streets?

It appears very much that Gov. Doyle approved a freeway expansion so unnecessary that the additional lanes can be reserved for a select group who will be charged to use it so the state can pay for the unneeded expansion. The real solution would be to drop expansion plans, spare Milwaukee the economic and environmental costs and use the money for some real transportation improvements -- namely, transit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Doyle's transpo budget:: highways dominate

From Gov. Doyle's Budget in Brief:

A $569 million increase for highway projects over two years. Local road aids, though, would be cut 1% in each year of the biennium. (Times are tough, but only for some.)

Some $22.1 million would be passed on to Milwaukee, Madison and Round Lake Beach for federally-eligible highway infrastructure projects.

The $100 million capital grant program designed to benefit the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority stays in the budget, but the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's recommendation for 3% annual increases in transit operating assistance is reduced to 2% in 2010 and 3% in 2011.

Doyle would give regional transit authorities in southeastern Wisconsin, Dane County and the Fox Valley the power to levy up to a 0.5% sales tax within their individual service areas. The RTAs also would be able to receive state and federal aid, issue bonds, and receive fare box revenues.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A WisDOT proposal for futility

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is proposing to, by 2013,"develop a more robust program related to the restoration and preservation of high-priority plant communities" on DOT-owned property and rights-of-way, according to its Connections 2030 draft plan.

Such a program is much-needed. Inexplicably, though, the department is proposing to wait until 2014-19 to "cooperate with DNR to develop and implement a rapid-detection and early response program to better control non-native invasive species."

WisDOT hasn't made much effort to control invasive species for a few years now, and it shows in their rapid spread along highways (transportation routes very nicely facilitate the spread of invasives) and beyond. A decision by WisDOT to try to restore native plants, but not to try to control invasives at the same time is pure folly and a waste of time and money. The invasives will (again) wipe out the native plants and march on.

WisDOT already likely has cause millions of dollars in environmental damage through its hands-off (non)treatment of invasives. It's proposal to wait five more years before doing any real work to control them will have devastating consequences.

The public has a chance to weigh in on this and all the proposals in the plan. WisDOT is accepting public comment through Feb. 27. You can email them to connections2030@dot.state.wi.us or send them by snail mail to:

Connections 2030
WisDOT Bureau of Planning
P.O. Box 7913, Room 901
Madison, WI 53707-7913

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A big "duh" for WisDOT

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is proposing to do what it should have done 20 or 30 years ago. (That is an improvement over much of its transportation planning, which is perfect for the 1950s.)

The draft "Connections 2030 Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan" contains this proposal, startling only because it prompts one to wonder, "What the hell has WisDOT been doing all this time?" Here it is:

"Develop a system for identifying maintenance costs associated with new and existing highways and bridges. This will enable department staff and decision-makers to better understand the maintenance costs associated with new construction, as well as the costs associated with the maintenance of the existing state trunk highway system."

It's a little scary that it took the department until 2009 to figure this one out.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

WisDOT backs away from Pabst Farms interchange

State Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi says the state may not build the Pabst Farm interchange after all, according to the Waukesha Freeman.

Gov. Doyle's wasted opportunities

Gov. Doyle is blowing a prime opportunities all over the place to jump start transit projects in southeastern Wisconsin.

His list of transportation projects to be funded with federal stimulus money contains not a single transit project. None. Zippo.

As the design phase for Zoo Interchange reconstruction advances, his Department of Transportation is simply refusing to do a transit alternatives analysis or to incorporate any transit components into the design. With the Zoo, County Grounds and higher education institutions all in the interchange area and Miller Park just a throw from the outfield away, this short-sightedness is almost beyond belief.

More evidence that the real issue in Wisconsin transportation funding isn't transportation. It's buying road builders and keeping them in the "D" column.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

WisDOT kills worst Zoo Interchange design; bad ones remain

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has eliminated from consideration the Zoo Interchange reconstruction alternative that would require the destruction of the most homes and businesses -- including a $10 million to $12 million building in the Honey Creek Corporate Center -- according to agency officials.

Instead, WisDOT has come up with a potential hybrid that calls for an eastbound diamond interchange, westbound access to I-94 via one-way service roads and a "Texas-U-Turn" at 76th Street. A Texas U-turn essentially forces a driver who wants to exit at one place -- say 84th Street -- to travel well past that to another exit point, such as 76th Street, then loop back on another road to 84th Street.

The hybrid would require the destruction of 13 homes on the south side of I-94 east of 88th Street, WisDOT officials told the Common Council's Steering and Rules Committee last week.

WisDOT still also is considering an alternative that would not require any buildings along the eastern leg to be razed, but that would rely on one-way service roads and a Texas U-turn that would require those drivers wanting to exit at 84th Street to travel to 76th Street before swinging back.

City engineer Jeff Polenske cautioned that while the option minimizes property impacts, it could have significant negative traffic impacts on North 76th Street.

All of the illustrations WisDOT presented to the committee showed the freeway expanded to eight lanes, though WisDOT official Donna Brown said six lane configurations still were under consideration.

Interestingly, when Ald. Robert Bauman asked about the eight-lane configuration, WisDOT consultant Brad Heimlich said he wanted to show city officials the "worst case scenario."

The number of lanes the department chooses would not affect the number of homes and businesses that would be destroyed, but the eight-lane version would be about 25 to 30 feet wider than the six-lane version, Heimlich said.

He also said that in the area between N. 76th St. and N. 84th St., the footprint of the freeway, including the Texas U-Turns, could be about double what it is now. The State Fair Park parking lot could be significantly smaller as a result of the project.

Brown ruled out an analysis of alternative transportation modes during the environmental impact study for the freeway reconstruction. She also said inclusion of transit components in the Zoo Interchange study could not be accomplished within the construction timeline Gov. Doyle set. That timeline, however, was entirely political. Doyle announced it at a press conference when Republican pressure to accelerate the Zoo Interchange project was shaping up to be a campaign issue in the 2006 race.

Aldermen made it clear they did not think any of their concerns about the potential loss of tax base, harm to the city or transportation alternatives would matter to WisDOT. Ald. Michael Murphy said bluntly that Milwaukee was "screwed."

Later in the meeting, Ald. Robert Bauman said that WisDOT really doesn't care what city officials think.

"They could care less what our opinion is," Ald. Robert Bauman said. "This is all a dog and pony show. They're required to come here, so you can check off 'talked to city council' on the check list of the draft environmental impact public participation."

Council President Willie Hines agreed. "It's clearly obvious that we do have to hear this," he said of WisDOT's presentation. "Some of us didn't want to, don't want to just play the game. It's not a game to us...We're beginning to question even more as to whether or not anyone's listening or whether or not anyone cares. That's kind of disturbing, very disturbing."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Traffic declining, freeways expanding

Traffic in Orlando is declining, according to HNTB, which is profiting from designing unneeded freeway lanes in Wisconsin, where driving also has dropped. Meanwhile, Gov. Jim Doyle wants to allow the gas tax to increase without legislative votes and is proposing to waste stimulus money on the ill-considered plan to expand North-South I-94 (a project pumping millions into HNTB's coffers).

Oh, by coincidence, HNTB is a major contributor to Gov. Doyle's campaign and inauguration funds.

Government and firms that buy government at work.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Traffic continues to fall on greater Orlando toll roads -- yet another sign of the region's deepening economic crisis.

Tolls paid to drive on the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority's network of highways have dropped 8 percent in the past year, and agency managers do not expect a turnaround any time soon.

The authority, which operates 100 miles of toll roads, decided Monday to cut its budget by almost 11 percent to make ends meet. Even more reductions could be in store if traffic decreases further.

"Happy, happy, joy, joy," authority chairman Rich Crotty said sarcastically.

Traffic and revenue have been falling year over year since March. Crotty and agency analysts peg the drops more to job losses than gas prices, which peaked last year at more than $4 a gallon but have since fallen below $2. The jobless rate in greater Orlando, meanwhile, has steadily risen to 7.7 percent.

"It's the economy across the board, with an emphasis on unemployment," said Crotty, who is also Orange County's mayor.

People, he said, do not drive as much when they do not have a job. As proof, he pointed to a chart, compiled by traffic consultant HNTB, showing traffic consistently remaining below last year's numbers even as the price of gasoline fell to near $1.50 a gallon, before rising this month.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Stimulating us backwards in time

It's hard to know if the House Dems are spiking their beverages with illicit drugs or really do believe that the 1950s were the golden days of America, but their stimulus package suggests that are delusional or delusionally nostalgic: highway, highway, highways.

It's if they believe that global warming is off the front pages so may not exist any more.

It's if they believe that oil prices are low right now, so the supply must be unending.

There is $30 billion for highway construction in the bill and $10 billion for transit. Here is what some other folks around the country are saying:

The Transport Politic:

We’re not particularly impressed; compared to $30 billion for highway construction, there is $10 billion for non-automobile uses here, and only $1 billion of that will go to New Start projects, $2 billion to modernization, and $1 billion to intercity rail. $6 billion will go to new or renovated equipment such as buses.

Why is this plan insufficient? For one, as the bill points out, there is a $50 billion backlog of repairs needed to be made to public transport, but only $2 billion is allocated for such investments. As we wrote early in the history of this blog, the number one need for transit in the United States is modernization of existing transit systems. New York’s Subway and Chicago’s L, among many others, desperately need to be rebuilt. This bill does not do much to help along that process.

Second, the bill does virtually nil for intercity rail, providing only $1.1 billion for Amtrak and state-based rail provision. The bill notes that the Northeast Corridor alone needs $10 billion in upgrades. How will this funding solve that problem, or tackle those of other corridors around the country? Where’s the money for high-speed rail operations?

Third, there’s only $1 billion set aside here for New Start grants. The fact of the matter is that the Second Avenue Subway’s First Phase alone will cost more than $4 billion. This money will do little to improve funding for transit agencies that are excited to get new rail and bus lines under construction.

And then there’s the $30 billion set aside for highways. Is this going to go towards more unnecessary roads? Did the dramatic reduction in traffic over the past eight months impress anyone in Congress? Or will this money go solely to needed repairs? This question has yet to be answered.

That said, there are possibilities for transit in other sections of the plan. $25 billion of the money to be redistributed to states for budget relief will go to paying for “essential services.” There doesn’t seem to be a reason that states couldn’t use that money for transit operations, which are facing record deficits around the country and which will not be able to take advantage of the $6 billion in buses this bill offers if they can’t hire drivers!

$31 billion is set aside to modernize public infrastructure with the goal of energy savings; there’s no reason that station and track improvements couldn’t fit in with this section of the bill.

But overall, the bill lacks any overriding ambition, and seems to be willing to provide only the modicum of funding with little attention to greater goals or even current needs. This is an early draft of legislation that still has a long way to go, so it may be too early to be making assumptions. But while this economic stimulus bill could be the foundation for a radical change in the way transportation is funded in the United States, what we’re getting here is nothing of the sort.

Greater Greater Washington:

House Democrats have released a draft of the federal stimulus package. Among the $275 billion in spending is $30 billion for highways and $10 billion for transit. That's still way too much highway money, but at least it's a big small step up from the existing status quo which gave only 3% of federal money 20% of federal transportation money to transit.

Most of the highway money will go to new sprawl-inducing lane miles. "In 2006, the Department of Transportation estimated $8.5 billion was needed to maintain current systems and $61.4 billion was needed to improve highways and bridges." And the plan's authors don't appear to have heard of induced demand, writing, "These projects create jobs in the short term while saving commuters time and money in the long term." Actually, since the 1950s we've learned that many highway project don't actually save time or money in the long term.

Design New Haven:

Unfortunately, according to the draft plan, the vast majority of the $40 billion in transportation funds would most likely go towards expanding superhighways in places like the deserts of Utah, not investing in the types of 21st-century infrastructure that can get the residents of the nation's major metropolitan areas to work efficiently, safely and without owning a car -- even though over 40% of New Haven residents commute by means other than private automobile. Despite all the evidence that transit-oriented development creates jobs by dramatically saving large numbers of people time and commuting expenses, the stimulus bill seems more like it is shaping up to be a recipe for oil company profits than for smarter growth in metropolitan areas like New Haven.

Bottom line is that it appears that Congress believes that highways should be expanded even as bridges across the country continue to catastrophically fail and crumble; even as families, children and senior citizens literally find it impossible to walk more than a couple of blocks in their own neighborhoods due to the lack of proper pedestrian facilities; and even as many major cities less than 30 miles apart - like Hartford, Waterbury and New Haven - continue to have absolutely no viable mass transportation connections.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A federal gas tax hike is recommended (again)

A national commission is expected to recommend a 50% increase in the federal gasoline tax, according to the Associated Press.

A federal commission created by Congress to find a way to make up the growing revenue shortfall in the program that funds highway repairs and construction is talking about increasing federal gas and diesel taxes.

A roughly 50 percent increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes is being urged by the commission until the government devises another way for motorists to pay for using public roads.

The 15-member National Commission on Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing is the second group in a year to call for increasing the current 18.4 cents a gallon federal tax on gasoline and the 24.4 cents a gallon tax on diesel. State fuel taxes vary from state to state.

In a report expected in late January, members of the infrastructure financing commission say they will urge Congress to raise the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon and the diesel tax by about 12 cents to 15 cents a gallon. At the same time, the commission will recommend tying the fuel tax rates to inflation.

The commission will also recommend that states raise their fuel taxes and make greater use of toll roads and fees for rush-hour driving....

A study by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies estimated that the annual gap between revenues and the investment needed to improve highway and transit systems was about $105 billion in 2007, and will increase to $134 billion in 2017 under current trends.

Projected shortfalls in revenue led the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, in a report issued in January 2008, to call for an increase of as much as 40 cents a gallon in the gas tax, phased in over five years.

Highway maintenance would take a hit

Funding for highway maintenance would be increased just 1% in 2010 and 2011, increasing available funding by a total of $5.6 million, under the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's budget request.

"Routine maintenance of the STH system is achieved primarily through contracts with each of the state’s 72 counties, WisDOT said in its request. "In general, program costs continue to increase even without increases in service levels. Annual adjustments in routine maintenance contracts for labor and equipment as well as the cost of salt are driving most of these increases. In addition, new lane miles and more traffic require additional resources."

The agency also raised the specter of service cuts if it does not get enough money, but did not suggest that it could reallocate resources within its requested $5.9 billion bienniel budget.

"If adequate funding is not provided, the program must prioritize its activities and then reduce or eliminate service and/or capital expenditures for repairing and replacing signs, repainting pavement markings, etc."

Gov. Doyle does a U-turn on gas tax indexing

Gov. Doyle might have whiplash as a result of the sharp turn-around on gas-tax indexing: he was against it before he was for it.

Doyle told the Wisconsin State Journal last week that the state should reconsider its 2005 repeal -- which Doyle supported -- of the law that allowed the gas tax to increase automatically every year at the rate of inflation. (It's so inconvenient to make legislators actually vote on tax increases.)

From the story:

"The simple fact is that where Wisconsin went, where Republicans took us, is unsustainable for transportation (infrastructure), where you say, that's basically it on the gas tax, regardless of what the costs are and what the needs are," Doyle said in a year-end interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. "I think that indexing had served us pretty well for a long period of time."

Wisconsin's motor fuels tax is now 30.9 cents per gallon, which as of January made it second only to the 36-cent tax in Washington state, said Dale Knapp, research director for the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. Wisconsin also adds 2 cents per gallon for an environmental clean-up fund...

Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the governor was going back on a change that created "greater accountability" for taxpayers by making lawmakers vote on each increase in the gas tax.

"Consumers have finally found some relief at the pump, and now the governor wants to increase their burden during these uncertain economic times," he said.

Spurred by conservative talk radio and bloggers, the movement to repeal the automatic increases took the Capitol by surprise three years ago, overcoming initial concerns from Doyle and the then Republican leadership of the Legislature.

Signing the repeal three years ago, Doyle said, "It's not appropriate to raise taxes every year automatically, without elected officials having to stand up and be accountable to the people who are paying taxes."