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