Tuesday, June 15, 2010

WisDOT: see no global warming, speak no global warming, mitigate no global warming

The I-94 North-South reconstruction and lunatic expansion project is well underway. It's cost is projected by the state to be $1.9 billion, but that is a remarkably and deceptively low figure. It does not take into account, for example, the interest payments the state will have to pay on bonding for the project. It also does not take into account costs that We Energies ratepayers will pay for moving utility infrastructure.

How much will interest and utilities cost us? Don't know -- the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has long believed that interest payments aren't real money, even when they cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars per year. It's likely that WisDOT doesn't even know what it will end up paying in interest -- one of the conveniences of working at the agency is that you get to start projects without having a clue as to how you are going to pay to finish them. If you run short of cash, you just borrow more, or cut highway maintenance, or raise taxes to fill in the gap.

One of the true horror shows of the I-94 North-South project is that WisDOT chose to ignore the impacts of global warming when it was making plans to build it. Yes, WisDOT said, adding an extra lane to the freeway will add to global emissions, but we don't know precisely how much it will add, so we are just going to ignore the matter entirely and propose absolutely nothing to mitigate the consequences of increased global warming.

Now a new study from the Federal Highway Administration shows the impacts of global warming on roads and highways. They are many and mostly negative and the laundry list of potential bad things to come is one helluva strong argument for WisDOT to greatly increase its highway maintenance (and repair) budget. Unfortunately, WisDOT generally is moving in the opposite direction, as illustrated by the emergency Zoo Interchange bridge replacement: do nothing until the bridges are ready to fall down, then spend an extraordinary amount to fix problems that could have been prevented for much less.

The new FHWA publication says the Midwest, including Wisconsin, will likely see much wetter winters and springs:

By far the largest seasonal increase in precipitation is projected to occur during the winter months, with an average increase of 6 to 7% and a likely range of +2 to +12% (USGCRP 2009). Annual mean precipitation in Chicago is projected to experience precipitation increases in line with the regional estimates (Hellmann et al. 2007). Heavy precipitation events are also projected to increase during this time, with the frequency of spring rainfall heavy downpours increasing by almost 15% in Missouri, Illinois, and Minnesota under a high emission scenario (A1Fi) compared with 1961-1990 (Union of Concerned Scientists 2009a). In the next two decades, heavy rains are projected to increase by 66% in St. Paul, 35% in Indianapolis, and 20% in Chicago (Union of Concerned Scientists 2009). These increases are expected to increase flooding and overload many drainage systems (USGCRP 2009).

That is bad news for highways. A jump in the number of heavy precipitation events has these consequences:

  • Increases in weather-related delays and traffic disruptions
  • Increased flooding of evacuation routes
  • Increases in flooding of roadways and tunnels
  • Increases in road washout, landslides, and mudslides that damage roadways
  • Drainage systems likely to be overloaded more frequently and severely, causing backups and street flooding
  • Areas where flooding is already common will face more frequent and severe problems
  • If soil moisture levels become too high, structural integrity of roads, bridges, and tunnels (especially where they are already under stress) could be compromised
  • Standing water may have adverse effects on road base
  • Increased peak streamflow could affect scour rates and influence the size requirement for bridges and culverts

It's worth noting that WisDOT proposed steeper center-to-shoulder grades for the new I-94, which will send more contaminated runoff, faster, on to properties that are closer to the wider freeway.

Changes in seasonal precipitation and stream flow patterns have additional results:

  • Benefits for safety and reduced interruptions if frozen precipitation shifts to rainfall
  • Increased risk of floods, landslides, gradual failures and damage to roads if precipitation changes from snow to rain in winter and spring thaws
  • Increased variation in wet/dry spells and decrease in available moisture may cause road foundations to degrade
  • Degradation, failure, and replacement of road structures due to increases in ground and foundation movement, shrinkage and changes in groundwater
  • Increased maintenance and replacement costs of road infrastructure
  • Short-term loss of public access or increased congestion to sections of road and highway
  • Changes in access to floodplains during construction season and mobilization periods
  • Changes in wetland location and the associated natural protective services that wetlands offer to infrastructure

More very hot days could lead to:

  • Increased thermal expansion of bridge joints and paved surfaces, causing possible degradation
  • Concerns regarding pavement integrity, traffic-related rutting and migration of liquid asphalt, greater need for maintenance of roads and pavement
  • Maintenance and construction costs for roads and bridges; stress on bridge integrity due to temperature expansion of concrete joints, steel, asphalt, protective cladding, coats, and sealants
  • Asphalt degradation, resulting in possible short-term loss of public access or increased congestion of sections of road and highway during repair and replacement
  • Limits on periods of construction activity, and more nighttime work
  • Vehicle overheating and tire degradation

Taken as a package, those are pretty devastating consequences that will cost Wisconsin residents billions of dollars. WisDOT, by embracing projects and politics that maximize the impacts of global warming, will suck up a larger and larger share of overall tax collections to fix what it has wrecked.

On the plus side, from WisDOT's perspective, is this: warmer temperatures mean longer construction seasons for highway builders to wreak more havoc on the rest of us.

Monday, April 5, 2010

So. Is the gov lying or just getting really, really old?

Gov. Doyle says the decision to reconstruct North-South I-94 was made before he took office. That’s not true. Evidence of that was presented in a previous post. And now there is more.

From a Jan. 2004 (that’s a full year after Doyle took office) Wisconsin Department of Transportation memo:

WisDOT has created a multi-division team to analyze the SEWRPC (Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission) recommendations and develop a 30-year implementation plan. The review will address key issues:

  • Timing of critical pavement and bridge needs and the probable need for continued rehabilitation, even prior to and during reconstruction;
  • Priority staging for corridors and interchanges, and the resulting timetable and costs for planning and environmental studies for each corridor; (Emphasis added)

So there you have it. Doyle did not tell the truth. WisDOT, which makes the actual decisions in issues like this, was still weighing the issue of timing a full year after Doyle took office.

For shame, Mr. Doyle.

Oopsie daisy: More bull from Busalacchi

Caught again.

Despite Secretary Frank Busalacchi’s denial, politics did indeed play a role in putting the I-94 North-South reconstruction and silly expansion project ahead of Zoo Interchange reconstruction.

From a May, 2004 internal WisDOT memo:

There are two key decisions that must be made shortly. First, the proposed corridor prioritization must be approved or amended. Staff selected these three corridors based on a number of factors. They first reviewed analysis of safety, pavement condition, design deficiencies, and congestion. Staff also included preliminary work already conducted as part of their analysis; as a result, the priority of IH 94 from the Illinois state line to the Mitchell Interchange was elevated. Finally, staff considered the political and physical ease with which a corridor could be reconstructed; this lowered both the IH 94 corridor from the Marquette Interchange to STH 16 and the IH 43 corridor from the Mitchell Interchange to Silver Spring Drive. WisDOT staff requires, therefore, the Secretary’s and the Governor’s approval of these three corridors as the first to be reconstructed. (Emphasis added)

This is the second time the Doyle dudes were caught in a whopper about the Zoo / I-94 decision. Why should we believe anything they say about freeway reconstruction?

The memo is titled “First Crack at Shorter Memo to Secretary.” It was obtained many moons ago by Citizens Allied for Sane Highways, which I-co-chair.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Frank, Frank, Frank. Jim, Jim, Jim. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Heavens, guys. If you are going to try to BS your way through a controversy, don’t leave public records in your wake.

Gov. Jim Doyle and his major embarrassment, WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi, are acting like the decision to reconstruct and unnecessarily expand North-South I-94 before reconstructing the Zoo Interchange was made before Doyle ever set foot in the governor’s mansion.

That’s total crap.

In February 2004, a good year after Gov. Jim Doyle took office, his Wisconsin Department of Transportation set priorities for freeway reconstruction. First came I-94 from the state line to the Mitchell Interchange, then came the Zoo Interchange to Richfield, then came I-94 from State Highway 16 to the Marquette Interchange.

These three projects were in “Bucket A.”

Said the WisDOT spreadsheet:

“Bucket A will be the first group of Corridors to be started depending on funding approval and resources available. The order or priorities within Bucket A is the order in which they are listed. This order has been chosen based on the Freeway Implementation Team’s recommended strategy to prioritize, SEWRPC’s recommendation, District 2 Leadership Council’s recommendation, and District 2 SE Freeway Team’s recommendation, which is based on additional research done in District 2…”

Another spreadsheet indicates that SEWRPC made its recommendations in July 2002 and WisDOT weighed in in January 2004. Doyle took office in 2003. Citizens Allied for Sane Highways, which I co-chair, obtained these records in 2005.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Zoo Interchange and bad spending priorities

The finger-pointing between gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Tom Barrett over who is to blame for the problems with the Zoo Interchange would be laughable, if it did not draw attention away from the real issue — the state’s refusal to take care of the highways it builds.

The past few governors and the state legislature never figured that out — if you build a highway, you need to take care of it. They got the first part of that equation — highway building — down pretty good, but the taking care of it part? Not so much.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has been an agency run amuck for a long time now, enabled by Governors Thompson and McCallum and Doyle and the state legislators who perennially suck up to the road builders. Got an unnecessary interchange project in Waukesha County? The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is there for you. Want to build a sometimes interchange because of a single sporting event? Just call WisDOT.

But boring ol’ maintenance? Never mind.

The facts are rather neatly and depressingly laid out in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s own Budget Trends report. From 1994 through 2009, spending on the three big highway-building programs — major highway development, state highway rehabilitation and southeastern Wisconsin highways rehabilitation — totaled $13.6 billion (transportation debt, most of which is incurred because of those programs, is a separate category). Spending on highway maintenance and operations totaled just $2.7 billion over that same period.

The top blue line is annual highway construction spending. The  pink line is annual maintenance spending. Source: Transportation Budget  Trends, 2008

The top blue line is annual highway construction spending. The pink line is annual maintenance spending. Source: Transportation Budget Trends, 2008

Yup. In a state with an aging highway system, the state powers that be decided that only one dollar should be spent on maintenance for every five dollars spent on new construction. Worse, the spending disparity grew over that time period. In 1994 maintenance spending was about 25% of the amount spent on highway construction. In 2009, maintenance spending equaled about 19% of highway construction spending.

Republican Walker, when he was in the state legislature, cast some votes for those bad budgets. But this is a bipartisan issue. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle rejected a request for a 1% annual highway maintenance budget increases for 2009-11.