Saturday, May 31, 2008
GM and Chrysler are promoting 5,500-pound eight-passenger hybrid-powered SUV's.
Which are not selling well.
$53,000 for a vehicle that still only gets 20 miles per gallon might just dampen some sales.
And you wonder why Toyota just keeps on growing?
Posted by James Rowen at 11:23 AM
I've lost count of the number of posts I've put up about the unneeded I-94 widening bring rushed to construction from Milwaukee's Mitchell Interchange south of the city to Illinois, adding $200 million to what is now an indefensible, $1.9 billion boondoggle.
On his WISN-AM 1130 radio show Friday afternoon, Mark Belling took off after transportation secretary Frank Busalacchi because the project calls for the elimination of the Mitchell Interchange's S. 27th northbound ramp, leaving some businesses there marooned, with customers and motorists inconvenienced.
Belling called Busalacchi "thuggish," and his staff "goons."
Name-calling won't change the eight-year project's schedule: today the federal government said construction can begin early next year.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:00 AM
Friday, May 30, 2008
Ohio's stubborn reactionaries are still holding up the approval of the Great Lakes Compact.
These are the same Ohio legislators with whom Wisconsin's leading Compact opponent, State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), had been working with strategically as Wisconsin's legislature slowly worked its way to approving the Compact earlier this month.
If Lazich's allies succeed in blocking the Compact in Ohio, thus withholding the agreement's required eight-Great Lakes state approvals, and eventual Congressional ratification, diversions of water to Lazich's constituents in New Berlin and Waukesha could be in peril.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:42 PM
The Tomah Journal continues a string of great editorials about land use, energy and spending with a strong call for more efficient development and vehicle use.
The editorial doesn't mention it, (an earlier one did) but Tomah is a perfect example of a community whose taxpayers will be sending money to faraway southeastern Wisconsin to pay the hundreds of millions needed to add 120 miles of new regional freeway lanes.
These lanes are part of a $6.5 billion freeway rebuilding plan - - with the biggest piece, $1.9 billion from Milwaukee to the Illinois border being rushed to a beginning this year though state documentation shows no gain in commuting times provided by 70 miles of new lanes running north and south.
State gas taxes, vehicle registration fees and borrowings will be paying for segments of the regional plan for another 20 years, even though higher gas prices will probably dampen driving and thus gas tax collections.
Investments in transit and local road repairs are better uses of transportation spending than new highways and sweeping new interchanges, but the regional plan doesn't allocate any money for rail initiatives or bus improvements, let alone to fill the pothole down the street.
Wisconsin and its regional planners could use more of Tomah's commonsense.
Instead, we're locked into an old, one-dimensional highway-only mindset in state government and its Department of Transportation that sends Tomah tax dollars to new lanes from Milwaukee past Kenosha where there is no real need.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:22 PM
Thursday, May 29, 2008
I hear you sputtering: "Say *@**! what?"
The Brookings Institution has ranked 100 US cities and regions according to their respective per-capita carbon footprints - - 2000--2005 data here - - that offers to people, businesses and governments an intriguing, and, at times, shocking comparison when measuring two major producers of pollution - - energy use and highway transportation.
Overall, Metropolitan Madison ranks close to the bottom, at 81st out of 100, with a combined transportation and energy per-capita annual emission of 2.914 tons of carbon, the data show.
Metropolitan Milwaukee (including Waukesha and West Allis), ranks substantially higher and better, at 44th, with the combined per-capita emission of carbon of 2.436 tons.
The per-capita national carbon emission output average was 2.60 tons - - so Milwaukee-area residents do better than peers across the country, and Madisonians do not.
Let's face it, Madison: you folks are putting about an extra half-ton of carbon into the air than your Wisconsin city neighbors to the east who live in the heart of the state's industrial base.
It does turn a stereotype upside down, doesn't it?
When you get into the nitty-gritty details, most comparisons tilt heavily to Milwaukee against Madison - - certainly a city that prides itself on a green mentality.
When looking at highway transportation overall, the comparison was lopsided again in Milwaukee's favor:
Madison, 87th, Milwaukee, 34th.
Truck emissions per resident ran in Milwaukee's favor, and when it came to residents' per-capita auto emissions, something we drivers can relate to, again it was no contest.
Madisonians emitted 1.353 tons per capita from autos, ranking 94th worst - - just six from the very bottom.
The Milwaukee auto number - - 1.038 tons, # 43.
Again: big numbers across-the board.
We all should be working hard to conserve and high gas prices are sure to help.
The residential energy usage numbers and rankings were essentially a draw:
Madison ranked 63rd overall - - four spots better than Milwaukee at 67 - - with carbon tonnage output per capita from electricity at 49th, and fuels, 69th.
Milwaukee's residential energy usage was 67th overall, with electricity usage ranking 51st (two spots worse than Madison), and fuels 67th (two better than Madison).
Frankly, I'm not sure why the numbers come in the way they do, but imagine how much improved the numbers would be if both cities had modern light rail and commuter rail lines, too.
Brooking says "substantial variation exists among these "carbon footprints" of metro areas, due in part to their development patterns, rail transit, freight traffic, carbon content of electricity sources, electricity prices, and weather."
So conclusions are hard to come by. Madison is wealthier per-capita than Milwaukee, but so is Waukesha folded into the Milwaukee data.
Milwaukee does have some rail (Amtrak), but more trucking, I believe.
It may be that Madisonians have a heavier foot on the gas pedal, and that the reformulated gasoline mandated in Milwaukee does burn cleaner, yet Milwaukee is still in a federal, non-attainment air quality area.
(Thanks to David Riemer for sending me to the Brookings charts today.)
Posted by James Rowen at 4:34 PM
General Motors announced today that 19,000 members, equaling 25% of its total US workforce, took the buyout offered in February, following falling sales.
An earlier buyout in 2006 was accepted by 34,000+ workers.
Imagine where the company and its workforce would be - - let alone the State of Michigan and communities like Janesville - - had GM moved a few years ago forcefully towards efficient vehicles and hybrid/alternative fuel engine technologies instead of to the short-term profitability of SUV's and so-called light trucks.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:22 PM
I've raised questions repeatedly on this blog about the blind devotion to highway building in Wisconsin and our region - - as recently as yesterday - - even though, as sharped-eyed reader Joe Klein notes, current federal transportation data show that driving is going down.
Spiking gasoline prices and other inflationary pressures will have that result, and no one is predicting a return to the era of cheap gasoline.
Isn't this another reason right now to slow down and re-think the $1.9 billion I-94 rebuilding and widening project between Milwaukee and Illinois that regional planners dreamed up when gasoline cost $2.30-a-gallon, and which state highway officials are determined to launch this year - - deliberately leaving out a commuter rail line - - through 2016?
Posted by James Rowen at 11:42 AM
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley took a shot this week at Wisconsin's Lake Michigan quality track record, an odd, off note for sure when you consider Chicago's long and continuing history of water pollution.
And despite the reversal of the Chicago River and a massive diversion of water away from the lake to carry Chicago sewerage downriver, seepage back to the lake still affects its quality, some experts say.
Here's the record, and it ain't pretty.
I'm a big fan of Daley's environmental record, but his criticisms of Wisconsin and Milwaukee have been gratuitous.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:21 AM
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The small rural Town of Lisbon in north-central Waukesha County is holding a public meeting tonight to decide whether to impose a six-month building moratorium while considering new codes to control development.
May The Road To Sprawlville bypass Lisbon.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:27 PM
Regional cooperation, rooted in citizen outrage, might just be the unintended consequence down the road as state and regional leaders keep telling the taxpaying public to drop dead.
You want the evidence?
Wisconsin's Department of Transportation keeps speeding towards a quick start to an unnecessary and wasteful expansion of I-94, pushing to add a new lane for 35 miles each way between Milwaukee and the Illinois border.
The new lane, which studies show not improving commuting times, adds another $200 million to an already-bloated reconstruction plan and runs the total to $1.9 billion - - the state's biggest highway project ever.
The City of Milwaukee has formally objected.
Even today, Ald. Bob Bauman notes that the state wants to spend billions on highways and can't even keep its promise to Milwaukee to get a food vendor in the new multi-modal train and bus depot downtown.
Again and again, WisDOT keeps saying "shove it"to Milwaukee," as it did when the overall regional highway plan first projected the loss of hundreds of homes, along with several businesses and millions of dollars in Milwaukee's tax base.
A group of attorneys recently sent highway planners a detailed analysis of the I-94 expansion's legal and environmental deficiencies - - something of a warning shot that WisDOT was 'planning' itself into a courtroom corner - - but on Tuesday, the highway bosses again said full speed ahead.
It looks like taxpayers, with their pockets being picked by WisDOT's slavish obeisance to their road-building pals, are about to start paying lawyers to defend an indefensible highway scheme.
Remember that the next time you hit a pothole, see a bus route close, or wonder why we can't get modern rail added to our transportation mix - - when other states and smaller cities have managed to figure it out.
The $1.9 billion, eight-year, north-south I-94 project is but a piece of a bigger, $6.5 billion Regional Highwaypalooza to add 120 miles of new lanes, along with repairs and generously-labeled "improvements" to the so-called freeway system in southeastern Wisconsin.
The plan was created by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission with a $1 million grant from...who else?...WisDOT itself.
Talk about a nice, closed loop.
WisDOT handed off the highway-only planning to SEWRPC because it didn't want to take the inevitable heat from outraged citizens - - many of whom had earlier beaten up WisDOT quite justifiably when it wimped out and dropped light rail from a regional transportation plan because talk radio bashed it.
SEWRPC's $6.5 billion highway-only/no-rail plan was based on traffic projections with gasoline costing $2.30-a-gallon.
That outdated guestimate is still anchoring the plan and its spending as gasoline prices are heading for $5-a-gallon, and while there is a commuter rail plan ready to be implemented parallel to the I-94 expansion corridor between Milwaukee to the Illinois border, yet neither WisDOT or SEWRPC will change one comma or penny in those plans.
All the SEWRPC planners and administrators' salaries are paid with tax dollars, the lion's share coming from Milwaukee County property owners - - and most of those county taxpayers live in the City of Milwaukee.
WisDOT's budgets hire people and pay contractors, too - - all with tax dollars.
So what do we have?
Spending without accountability.
Taxation without representation.
Leaders and planners use the public's money to a) dismiss the public from any real input into the planning process, then b) allocate the money in ways that sacrifice any transit-stimulated investment and economic development - - while c) knowingly exacerbating costly sprawl, irretrievable land loss, smoggier air and the intentional, racially-insensitive separation of workers from a real shot at jobs or affordable housing in the 'burbs.
And what will we end up with?
A region that keeps searching for a new competitive identity, but is becoming - - with the help of local, state and regional governmental bodies - - The Region Left Behind.
How can Milwaukee attract workers and students, managers and professors, investors and tourists, when they are coming from cities where riding in from the airport on a train is the norm, as is getting around the downtown, to work and other destinations by modern rail transit?
We'll be left as a one-dimensional and backward region with more highways on the drawing boards - - paid for with gas taxes, vehicle registration fees and borrowings all sure to keep rising - - to serve sprawling subdivisions, on annexed farmland, with diverted Lake Michigan water.
It's Planning For Yesterday.
These public policies and subsidies promoted and implemented at SEWRPC and WisDOT are sucking dollars and resources to unsustainable and unaffordable distant regional edges at the very time that all best practices endorse investment where infrastructure exists already - - in cities like Milwaukee and Racine, and older suburbs like West Allis - - to better match and link workers and development using water, land and transit resources.
WisDOT, long operating with an arrogant corporate culture, will have none of it.
It has been shoving widened roads across dense urban areas and farming communities for decades - - at the expense of cities, downtowns and older suburbs - - but now the agency's approach is even more indefensible because gas costs are pricing motorists right off the pavement WisDOT is ready to pour.
It even wants to rush ahead with a $25-million new interchange in Western Waukesha to a stalled shopping mall development in the Pabst Farms project, where the mortgage crisis has suspended subdivision construction, and higher gas prices are making regional malls less attractive than built downtown commercial centers in nearby cities like Oconomowc, Fort Atkinson and Jefferson.
It continues to be exposed as an unrepresentative tool of the road-builders and subdivides, shutting Milwaukee out of its decision-making (Milwaukee has no representation on its 21-member commission, though four heavily-rural counties - - Walworth, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha, with less people total than the City of Milwaukee, have a majority of the Commission's votes, with 12.).
You want to go to a SEWRPC committee meeting, where all the work gets done?
You'll need Google Earth and a good car to find SEWRPC out in an industrial park in Pewaukee, without a bus stop, of course.
But don't expect to speak at SEWRPC committee meetings. They rarely allow public comment.
The discussion,choreographed by SEWRPC staff, is among hand-picked experts and favored consultants that reflect the agency's suburban, sprawl-inducing biases, histories and agendas.
In fact, SEWRPC just named Ken Yunker, the agency long-time deputy director, as the new executive director-to-be in a closed, no-search process, because that's the way it has always done it, SEWRPC officials have said.
At a SEWRPC task force meeting yesterday in Kenosha, out-going executive director Phil Evenson, himself the former deputy to SEWRPC's first executive director. said the promote-from-within tradition was so locked-in at SEWRPC that bringing in outside candidates through a search wouldn't have been fair - - to them!
Give Evenson credit for honesty in explaining what he said had been his decision to recommend Yunker's promotion - - and for taking "affirmative" out of affirmative action.
Even Adelene Greene, a SEWRPC commissioner from Kenosha County who was chairing the Kenosha meeting (a session of the SEWRPC Environmental Justice Task Force, not a higher-rung, full-fledged committee), called the hiring "one missed opportunity."
Give her credit for honesty, too.
When rumors of Evenson's impending resignation percolated across the region, I posted a lengthy analysis in January about the need for a fresh start, and a new mindset at SEWRPC.
Missed opportunity...for sure - - and more will occur unless and until Milwaukee County can extricate itself from SEWRPC, and be reconstituted as a regional planning body with authority over one county only, just like the status Dane County has achieved with its single county planning body.
I've written about this before. Without control over its destiny and budgets, its land and water, Milwaukee County - - and the City of Milwaukee that, by law, cannot expand its borders one square-inch - - are doomed to second-or-third-class status relative to neighboring counties.
Which is fine with the outlying counties: they get to run SEWRPC with Milwaukee money, but keep Milwaukee land-locked, and locked-down.
When the water diversions are fully pumping Lake Michigan water to the many outlying communities already identified by SEWRPC as targets, and this round of highway expansion is finished in time for the next multi-billion-dollar round of scheduled rebuilding, people in Milwaukee will still be clamoring for affordable transit.
The only difference by then will be that the people lured by water and added lanes to Sprawlville, when gasoline is $15-per-gallon and/or rationed, will also wish that rail lines had been finished years earlier, too.
Maybe that will be the real basis of regional cooperation - - not among governments and agencies, but among real people, city and suburban folks alike - - the public wondering aloud, and together, where their tax dollars went in 2008, when the leaders and planners still pretended it was 1988.
Then demanding through recalls and elections that the will of the people be finally respected.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:12 AM
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Suburbs are implementing restrictions on lawn sprinkling - - though Waukesha's ordinance is too weak because it levies a financial penalty after three warnings, and has yet to result in a single forfeiture - - are more than good water conservation policy.
Without these restrictions in place, and demonstrating real water savings, applications from these communities for Lake Michigan diversions are going to find little sympathy from regulators in other states that will have to approve the diversions.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:40 PM
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett again makes the case for modern transit in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker remains the major local obstacle, but the logjam could be broken by Gov. Jim Doyle if he redirected to commuter rail, from Kenosha to Milwaukee, the $200 million ticketed for a new I-94 lane to and from Milwaukee south to Illinois.
I-94 would still get its reconstruction, but not the expansion - - a pure gift to the highway lobby that is not justified by the expansion plan's documentation.
The state should also connect the new Intermodal station downtown to the Connector local rail system proposed by Barrett, and to an upgraded network of hybrid buses and other improvements that both Barrett and Walker support.
That would elevate transit construction as a state priority - - not equaling what the state does for the highway industry, because that would be too much to expect - - but the state can genuinely making modern rail transit a significant transportation and economic development activity.
The rail lines and stations would spur development and solidify the downtown, Third Ward, Pabst City project, King Dr., the Park East corridor and other neighborhoods that have seen growth but could stall if the auto-dependent economy stagnates.
Local Milwaukee business leaders have begun to step up their advocacy for rail, led by Michael Cudahy. Barrett has a logical plan, and the economic benefits associated with rail investments are ubiquitous.
With gas prices spiking, and suburban sprawl producing housing that is too expensive for auto-dependent commuters to afford, it makes overwhelming sense today for the state to begin to shift more public revenue investments to transit and road maintenance and steer away from new, costly and unsustainable highway expansions.
But without state leadership and policy initiatives, the paradigm will be slow to shift, and our one-dimensional transportation reality in Milwaukee will remain a bus system lurching towards collapse.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:14 AM
The Cleveland Plain Dealer notes that the handful of state legislators who held up passage of the Great Lakes Compact in Ohio for years had subscribed to a "wacko conspiracy theory" that did not fit into 21st. century thinking.
Let the record show that State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), the sole State Senator to vote against the Compact in Wisconsin, touted Ohio State Sen. Tim Grendell, the acknowledged leader of the Ohio obstruction.
And when she brought to a legislative study committee, in writing, some of Grendell's argumentation, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources replied, in writing, that what Grendell was arguing for Ohio was incorrect for Wisconsin and irrelevant to our law.
Yet it is, and has always been, New Berlin, Mary Lazich's home city, that is first in line for a diversion of Lake Michigan water - - something that was blocked without the Compact's approval.
It never made much sense to me that Lazich would align herself with forces and argument in Ohio that stood in the way of New Berlin obtaining water that Jack Chiovatero, the city's Mayor, says New Berlin needs for health and safety reasons.
Water access for which New Berlin has formally applied - - through consultants that New Berlin water ratepayers have paid - - and to which the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has given some preliminary, positive reviews.
In fact, the DNR has been encouraging New Berlin and Milwaukee, in writing, to begin discussing the many technical, legal and financial details that would need to be ironed out if a water deal is ever approved.
Yet Lazich, on her blog, ripped into Chiovatero for even having the discussion, and, in response to earlier remarks that Chiovatero had made about her to the Shepherd-Express, called the New Berlin Mayor "simplistic and small-minded."
Her words, July 19, 2007.
"Chiovatero’s rationale and line of thinking is small-minded and simplistic," wrote Lazich on a blog - - "Conservatively Speaking" - - carried online through Journal Communication "CommunityNow" websites serving Lazich's Senate district.
"His criticism is misdirected. Instead of cozying up to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett who opposes access to Lake Michigan water for New Berlin and Waukesha, Chiovatero should be working with me, the state Senate representative of the area most affected by the Compact, to ensure our communities get the water they so desperately need. "
Amd Kevin Fischer, Lazich's staff aide, has recently demonstrated on his blog a lack of understanding of water issues.
Makes you wonder about that whole Lazich staff/blogging/office operation.
As I said, Lazich's approach to the Compact never made much sense to me.
Anybody out there in New Berlin, or in water-hungry Waukesha County, got an explanation for the Senator's actions?
Posted by James Rowen at 6:37 AM
Monday, May 26, 2008
Author and blogger Dave Dempsey explains the difference, raised by Nestle's spin on behalf of its export of Great Lakes water under the faux-branded "Ice Mountain" bottling label.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:00 AM
Sunday, May 25, 2008
A pattern of harmful violations to the environment during the construction of an oil pipeline will lead to a significant financial penalty levied by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Sunday.
Wisconsin Wetlands Association had been monitoring the construction: the group's due diligence, and more, has raised public awareness and helped to make sure the pipeline builder is held accountable.
So while there will be enforcement action by the DNR, it's important also to ask three questions:
1) How did we get to this position?
2) How much money is enough to fix the damage and deter its repetition?
3) Why isn't there better goal-setting, management direction and field work by the pipeline companies on the front end, so the state wouldn't have to come in once the damage is done and make sure that things are repaired, as best as that can be done, after-the-fact?
Or have we reached the point where anything is acceptable as the price of 'progress?' Do we really want to go down that road, leaving for future generations a diminished and polluted landscape?
Wisconsin environmental organizations had been tracking pipeline construction and warned of its damage to wetlands - - some of which I catalogued here last September.
Midwest Environmental Advocates had been deeply involved, too, and some media had reported on the issues. You wonder where we'd be without these non-profit organizations that, armed with facts and energy, keep raising the alarm about dangers posed to our shared resources.
But unfortunately at a certain level - - and this attitude will become more prevalent and excused with the rush to find and sell more oil - - industry just does not care enough about the land and water they are tearing through to boost their bottom lines.
As pipelines fill with Canadian crude oil heading for several refineries in the Great Lakes region, including the Murphy Oil facility in Superior, construction flaws and operating errors will inevitably make stream and wetland damage, and other ecological problems, routine.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:19 AM
Kevin Fischer, inveterate righty blogger and staff aide to State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) is atwitter about what he calls "preposterous," and "horrible," and "icky" (now there's maturity, for ya) plans to use state-of-the-art water purification techniques to create potable water from waste water in parts of the county facing water shortages.
Isn't it an act of faith among conservatives that technology will bail us out of severe ecological difficulties, so why would people like Fischer get all upset and squeamish when advantageous technology gratefully comes along?
And Kevin: Though the technology is improving, the concept is hardly new.
What do you think certain communities along rivers downstream from cities like Waukesha, for example, have been doing for decades and decades - - with Waukesha being the city right next door to Mary Lazich's home base in New Berlin, and which is the dominant city in Waukesha County, where Lazich is a key policy-maker?
One of the region's pre-eminent water experts, UW-M hydrologist and professor Douglas Cherkauer, has been educating folks around here about this for years, and suggesting it to Waukesha as an alternative to piping in Lake Michigan water a good 20 miles away.
As Cherkauer has been saying, Waukesha could efficiently treat some its its effluent, then deposit it in the watershed above the city where it could then seep back into the Fox River, be removed by Waukesha, and used again.
Here is how Cherkauer described the process to the Freeman more than four years ago:
"I’m saying, take half of that [Waukesha discharge] flow and pipe it back somewhere up the river, north of Waukesha - removed from the Fox River but within the watershed. Then build big infiltration fields for it - with big, perforated pipes put underground - and let (the wastewater) soak in, after it’s been treated. Then the soaking infiltration process provides still more treatment.
"Then that (wastewater) would flow back to the Fox River and it literally increases that Fox River flow by that same 4.5 million gallons a day," he said.
"Cherkauer added, "If the stuff is treated correctly, then the river is still viable, it’s still a recreational site, and you’re just inducing it to flow from the river into shallow wells that are placed along the river. Those wells could be hooked up to the same water mains that the current deep wells are hooked up to.
"The difference between a groundwater source and a river source is that you absolutely have to treat a water source when it comes out of the river, unlike well water," he said.
"Cherkauer said the concept is not so outside the mainstream as it might sound. The Illinois communities of Elgin and Aurora are already drinking that water - the wastewater that Waukesha sends south down the Fox River past their communities." [Emphasis added]
In other words - - right now, Waukesha discharges its waste water, a valuable resource, into the Fox River below the city, where downstream communities in Northern Illinois pull that water out, treat it again to acceptable drinking standards, and - - here's the news - - Kevin:
If you visited Elgin, and had a glass of tapwater, you'd be drinking treated Waukesha waste water.
Then Elgin, or Aurora, treats their waste water, discharges it downstream, and the process can goes on again and again as the Fox River empties into the Mississippi River watershed, to the Gulf of Mexico.
It's nothing new, except that the technologies are getting better because water needs are growing and the market is responding with new science, and sheer ingenuity.
Not everyone's water originates in a well, Kevin.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:28 AM
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Can Madison really claim its Healthy City motto and continue its annual Brat Fest, where the goal is to eat close to 200,000 sausages - - and yes, I know, a modest few are veggie?
But the emphasis on breaking the 190,000 barrier...setting a record...makes this nothing more than a glorified Coney Island hot dog eating contest.
Yes, it's a fundraiser. I know, I know, but in a world, and even a state where some people do not have enough to eat, and where heart disease is a major drain on the health care system, does a self-proclaimed Healthy City go out of its way to gorge itself on nearly 20 miles worth of sausages?
Ambulances and cardiologists are no doubt standing by.
Paul Soglin at Waxing America shines a different political light on the event, but I believe I have best gone to the heart of the matter.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:51 AM
I learned a lot reading the WisPolitics.com interview with Ed Flynn, Milwaukee's new police chief, about the historical internal dysfunction between the police department's detective, crime-solving personnel and the patrol services.
The everyday citizen probably knew nothing about this situation; I give Flynn credit not only for shaking things up within the department, but also for explaining why he is doing the things he is doing to improve services, particularly patrols, that are what the citizenry want and need.
I was at a recent neighborhood meeting where these changes were explained in real terms by the District Captain and other officers, so now it all makes sense.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:30 AM
Friday, May 23, 2008
The final program in The 4th Street Forum's spring 2008 series was recorded yesterday at Turner Hall and will be aired twice this weekend on Milwaukee public television stations.
The topic was Milwaukee's future, water and regionalism; the panelists were State Rep. Pedro Colon, (D-Milwaukee), New Berlin Mayor Jack Chiovatero, Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers Executive Director Lynn Broaddus, and myself.
Here is the schedule:
Friday at 10:00 pm on Channel 10; Sunday at 3:00 pm on Channel 36.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:24 PM
The Toledo Blade has published a useful article explaining the separation between Ohio's pending Compact approval - - becoming the 7th among the eight Great Lakes states - - and a related referendum effort this fall.
Also see the comment section in this previous posting.
Sorry for adding confusion to the complicated debate.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:55 PM
Ohio opponents of the Great Lakes Compact have agreed that the agreement can become law in Ohio if a statewide referendum re-affirming some property rights is approved, and Compact supporters have figured out a way to live with it, according to the Chicago Tribune.
This issue was a minor problem in Wisconsin's deliberations, essentially governed already in state law and the Wisconsin constitution, and fine-tuned in the long, drawn-out hassle over the bill that implements the Compact here.
From a distance, the Ohio arrangement looks like face-saving for the opponents, who had minimal clout in the state legislature and were being regularly pounded and mocked by the state's editorial writers.
When Michigan resolves its pending disputes over competing implementing bills, and Pennsylvania's predicted approval also takes place, all eight Great Lakes states then would have ratified the agreement.
The two final steps are approval by the US Congress and Canadian parliament; some Canadians think the Compact gives too many US communities Great Lakes water access, and there could be opposition in the Congress from arid states, too.
With political power in the US shifting from the east and Midwest to the west and south, the Compact's final approval in the Congress is not a slam-dunk.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:38 AM
Admissions are $4 off per person at Discovery World through the end of May, including Memorial Day.
Pretty good way to save a few bucks this weekend and help yourself to a better understanding of what that Great Lakes Compact is all about.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:14 AM
The Wisconsin Ethanol Coalition is out with an ad touting the increasingly-controversial fuel additive - - website home page and ad access here - - but the link that is supposed to tell you who its members are only directs you to an email address and phone number for information, or as a route to join.
Maybe the Coalition can fix that?
Posted by James Rowen at 6:27 AM
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Five weeks ago, I predicted that gas prices around here would hit $4-a-gallon no later than June 30.
My friends who call me a pessimist can now laugh at that goofy, glass-half-full (tank-half-full?) optimism, as the price for regular gas at the Clark station (usually the cheapest around) not far from my house crossed the $4 barrier overnight to $4.19.
I should have known the bump would come right before people hit the road for Memorial Day travel - - such as it may be this year.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:05 PM
So says a credible expert.
As crude oil breaks the $135/barrel price.
Let's say he's wrong, on either side of the prediction, by 50%.
How well does the economy nationally, statewide, and in southeastern Wisconsin function with gasoline costing $6/gallon?
Or at $22.50?
Either way, as I pointed out in this posting, Wisconsin should be investing right now in transit and other city-friendly policies that mitigate sprawl, and not in ridiculous highway expansions and water diversion to subdivisions and strip malls that have no future, and will more quickly than you can imagine become unwanted, and blighted, as the price of gasoline keeps climbing.
There are mechanisms and individuals in place that could be focused on these issues - - if they had the political will to do it - - but that require boldness and vision, perhaps equivalent to a new Progressive Party of sorts, or the energy and devotion of a budding Gaylord Nelson or a crusading media figure like Bill Evjue.
Or a grand coalition that transcended partisanship, geography, vested interests and the other limitations of business-as-usual.
There are less earth-shaking opportunities and avenues to begin and to attain change, too.
For example, the Governor has a task force on global warming. It could re-direct some of its work right now, reorienting the effort it has put in already to the emerging realities and tensions and needs within the market, the environment and the state's budgeting.
All the state's regional planning commissions could do the same, and pressure to do so could be brought by any number of elected officials and grassroots organizations to shake out the commissions' cobwebs and get busy with the people's business.
But without a change in attitude and thinking, and a commitment to action - - to leadership from above and below - - we will be left with little more than inertia and the anxieties that take root in shared powerless, actual and real.
Let's call today, May 22, 2008, "Day One of The Post-Petroleum Paradigm" because we are all aware that a tipping point has been passed - - though warnings about peak oil and related issues have been discussed and ignored for years - - and I'm also going to call 5/22/2008 "Day One of Wisconsin's Deafeningly Silent Response."
I'll be relieved when leaders step forward to change the dynamic, and we can move from paralysis, to analysis, to action.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:37 AM
Crude oil broke through the $132-per-barrel price today, which means at this pace, gasoline will be $5-a-gallon by the summer.
What's the peak?
$175-200-per-barrel crude? $8-$10-a-gallon gasoline at the pump?
And I don't mean in 20 years.
I mean by next year, but project these trends out 20 years or so, and you wonder if anyone will be driving anything bigger than a motorbike on all the new highway lanes planned for southeastern Wisconsin, and no doubt, in every municipality and state in the country, where road-builders routinely manage public highway planning.
It'll make your head spin to absorb all the consequences of crude oil and its products priced far beyond the capacity of households, businesses and entire governments to tolerate them (crude oil was as low as $8-a-barrel in 1999, and about half its current price a year or so ago), but put aside questions like, will you ever fly on an airplane again, or can farmers and truckers afford the fuel they need so you can eat, and ask yourself this:
Can the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) demonstrate that it is factoring in the new harsh realities facing our petro-economy into any rethinking to justify the massive highway spending it still wants to undertake in southeastern Wisconsin?
Got a task force working on it? One of its many consultants? Some sharp in-house wizard?
I doubt it.
Look to what WisDOT is doing instead: it's hellbent to launch a $1.9 billion reconstruction, enhancment and widening of the north-south leg of I-94 this fall, from Milwaukee to Illinois, to run for the next eight years.
And its well into the preliminary work on yet a second costly, related project at the Zoo Interchange west of Milwaukee that was moved up to begin in 2012 - - a purely political decision by the state made just prior to the 2006 elections to satisfy one noisy Sprawlville legislator, State Sen. Ted Kanavas, (R-Brookfield) - - so unlike the Marquette Interchange piece of the regional freeway plan that has run from 2004-2008, there will be two segments of the plan underway at the same time.
Nothing like it has been undertaken by the state.
And there's more highway-building on the drawing boards in the SE regional plan (other regions have their projects scheduled, too, but not quite at this scale) - - north on I-43 the length of Ozaukee County, west on I-94 in Waukesha County to the Jefferson County line, south into Walworth County, and on I-94 in the City of Milwaukee right past the Storyhill neighborhood and Miller Park, complete with 127 miles of new lanes, scores of widened ramps, plus resurfacings and other enhancements.
It's way beyond maintaining and fixing what we've got already - - which should always be Priority One and often isn't.
And all this was planned out in 2003, using a projected cost for gasoline at $2.30 a gallon, by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and then approved by WisDOT.
There was never any doubt that WisDOT would do anything but approve the plan.
That's because it paid the planning commission $1 million to write it, so it was "approving" something it had already bought and paid for from an agency with the word "planning" in its title.
But let's be honest:
It's hard to imagine that when all the new lanes are open, and the sweeping ramps are finished, and all the vaunted safety improvements are done, and the last ribbon is cut in about 20-25 years that gasoline will be anywhere near $2.30-a-gallon.
Or $3.30, $4.30, $5.30, $6.30, $7.30...just keep going.
Can WisDOT show us that with gas prices heading skyward, and worldwide demand also accelerating, there will be the traffic demand for such huge capacity increases on this highway system - - projected to cost $6.5 billion when it's over?
A bottom-line construction figure that is sure to jump and take more money from taxpayers because the costs for fuel to ship in the materials and run all the road-building equipment are soaring, too.
Can WisDOT continue to deliberately leave transit out of transportation planning and implementation in the region, when killer gas costs will price many motorists out of their vehicles?
When many two-and-three car families will be forced to move to single-car arrangements, and many people with only one car will find it impossible to maintain it, or use it often - - and transit will become a much more widespread choice, and for many, a basic survival need?
When does all the agencies' one-dimensional spending and anti-transit decisions move from the fiscal sphere to the moral realm?
Yet I see no urgency in state government to face up to a bigger picture and a new paradigm, let alone a willingness to ask and answer these questions - - questions that are being faced at every dinner table and in every business in the country.
Isn't now the time to begin to have the debate and make changes that we can live with next month, next year, and in the coming generations?
Instead, at the State Capitol, there is denial, adherence to the old, encrusted thinking, and a clinging to the familiar ways, lubricated by campaign cash from the highway lobby and its allies.
What's needed now is realism, and action - - the very first move of which could and should be the immediate tabling of the I-94 north-south plan in favor of much less-costly repaving, resurfacing, and the prompt financing transfer to the pending commuter rail line that runs roughly parallel to the interstate highway.
With that shift from new highway lanes to transit, the new model will take root, and its replication across the state can send a smart signal to the rest of the county, too.
For Wisconsin, for the southeastern region, and for every elected official, the transition is possible, the need imminent.
This is the moment.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:33 AM
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Not surprisingly, deferred maintenance and inspections on the collapsed I-35 bridge are looking like the culprits.
Another reason to spend more transportation dollars fixing what we've got - - whether in Minnesota or Wisconsin or anywhere else - - rather than chasing after sexier new construction projects that then join the lower-priority inspection and maintenance list.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:46 PM
A dozen incumbents split between the two parties are not seeking re-election, this fall, and the harsh atmosphere at the State Capitol is taking its toll.
Polling suggests a Democratic sweep in November, but that's a long way off.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:26 PM
American Airlines today announced it was charging $15 for the first checked bag.
Don't be surprised if the next new fee charged by airlines is for in-flight bathroom use.
Entrance could be regulated by credit or debit card swiping - - maybe combined with an airline specific gift or credit card that could be used to buy meals, beverages, even magazines, pillows and those oversized handkerchiefs they call blankets.
Think about it. Each drink or meal purchased could include a prepaid visit to the bathroom, so they could get you coming or going.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:05 AM
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker brought a fancy new hybrid bus to town to demonstrate the equipment he wants to buy with federal funds that can't spent on transit without the approval of the City of Milwaukee.
Then the county officials in charge of the demonstration ride fail to pick up the city officials, literally leaving them at the curb.
So if you are the city, does this sound like a group you'd want to partner with?
And do you think Walker really wants the city's cooperation on the transit plan, or is having more fun dissing city transportation officials?
Posted by James Rowen at 9:41 AM
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, continuing to roll over Milwaukee officials, deny the reality of high gas prices and dismiss fiscal sanity, is embarking on the next unfunded phase of the region's $6.5 billion freeway rebuilding and expansion spending spree.
With our/your money.
The next segment that is being planned - - just as the $1.9 billion segment from Milwaukee to Illinois gets underway through 2106 - - is the reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange so motorists can zip through it a few seconds faster at rush hours.
At a cost of hundreds of millions of un-budgeted dollars, and now, according to state planners, at least 20 homes and some businesses that have been standing too long in progress's path.
Homes? Businesses? Tax base?
Ah - - who needs those trifles?
Not the Milwaukee area, especially in a recession. Just let those contracts and get some more concrete in the ground.
Step one? The ritualized informational public meeting-and-later-hearing process, and it's about to begin.
You know - - that dog-and-pony show at which planners and engineers from WisDOT, or perhaps from the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - the agency that spawned this entire regional highway plan with a $1 million DOT contract a few years ago - - are decked out in their Sunday best to stand at attention by glossy displays with leaflets to hand out, uncomfortably reminiscent of the judging session at the High School Science Fair.
But in this case, instead of winning a ribbon for nice charts and culture-filled petri dishes, the goal at the displays is to numb inquiring minds with jargon, data, and other palliative assurances about the project's design, need, and overall wisdom.
I'll reprint the public session schedule at the bottom (thanks to Tom Held for including it in his Journal Sentinel story), so you'll know where to go should you choose to torture yourself by attending, but trust me - - leave behind the expectation that, armed with new official information and materials gathered independently, you'll be able to submit comments or testimony that will actually reduce or alter this grandest of grand Wisconsin road-building schemes - - the biggest 25-to-30-year-ConcreteFest in state history - - and help get transit extensions introduced into the plan as a gesture towards a mere modicum of transportation system balance.
Or that the rising price of gasoline will someday, prayerfully soon, register with the well-connected highway building lobby and the enablers to which they are wired in government, and introduce into their insulated and self-interested world a little planning logic as the first real efficiency in this entire, multi-billion-dollar effort.
The public information sessions will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Tommy G. Thompson Youth Center at State Fair Park, 640 S. 84th St., and from 5 to 8 p.m. May 29 in the Wauwatosa West High School cafeteria, 11400 W. Center St., Wauwatosa.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:40 AM
Check out the Daily Reporter's online poll about the I-94 leg from Milwaukee-to-Illinois, and whether it should include commuter rail.
At midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, it was 50-50, and I have only voted once. I swear.
Get your vote in now (for the commuter rail inclusion), here.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:03 AM
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Right-wing AM talker Michael Savage, the nationally-syndicated right-wing radio host carried by AM 620 WTMJ, used cuts from a song by the musical group "Dead Kennedys" Tuesday when announcing that Sen. Ted Kennedy, (D-MA), had been diagnosed with brain cancer, according to Media Matters.
Saying it was out of "some respect."
When will WTMJ, owned by Journal Communications, replace the deliberately crude and offensive "Savage Nation" program with an alternative?
Thanks to Justin Cole for sending this over to me.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:42 PM
Gov. Jim Doyle, though in Canada on a trade mission, exercised his considerable powers and presto! - - the state's flamboyant, train-loving railroad commissioner was out of his job, and a Democratic state senator who used to run the Tavern League resigned, hopped into the chief train engineer's seat, and opened the door for the election of a new Democratic senator more to the liking of the Governor and the current senate majority leader.
The immediate effects include a hefty pay raise for the former-Senator-now-railroad commissioner that could also double his pension by 2012.
The longer-term consequences: should the Democrats hold their senate majority and fill the now-vacant seat with yet another Dem, the Governor might get that statewide smoking ban and other legislative reforms he wants, but that the Senator-now-railroad commissioner had resisted.
If you like inside political baseball, here are the players, the scorecard and the pitch.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:29 PM
President George W. Bush's Environmental Protection Agency says southeastern Wisconsin still has a way to go to meet modest federal smog standards.
This turns back efforts by interests ranging from Gov. Jim Doyle to the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce who think the EPA standard is too tough.
So even though we have known unhealthy levels of smog and other air pollutants in the region, the feds say we need more anti-pollution efort done successfully before we can be removed from certain clean air requirements and regulation.
The ironies here are enough to make a grown person cry - - or at at least get their eyes watering.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:42 AM
Expansion of refineries in the Great Lakes region at Superior, WI, Whiting, IN and near Detroit to process and ship Canadian tar sand oil will be linked to billions of dollars in new pipelines crisscrossing both countries, as shown here.
The exploitation of Canadian tar sand oil, itself demanding huge expenditures of water and energy, will have an impact on the North American continent, and on the atmosphere's quality, for decades.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:00 AM
Monday, May 19, 2008
Some proponents of the much-discussed $6 billion expansion of the Murphy Oil Co. refinery at Superior have suggested that outsiders are raising concerns about the expansion's impact on Lake Superior, surrounding wetlands and the air quality.
So local residents are making it clear that they have the same concerns, too.
So much for the outside agitator theory.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:22 PM
The New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman writes succinctly about gas prices killing suburban development.
The higher that gas prices rise, the less appealing and affordable are the distant suburbs, and conversely, the more attractive are built cities, with transit and the other amenities provided by their density.
Which is why subdivision construction has been suspended at Pabst Farms, and why the state and Waukesha County should drop the idea of pouring millions into an I-94 interchange to serve a shopping mall at Pabst Farms that has less value as a destination with gas at $4-a-gallon, and rising.
There is a huge disconnect between events in the world and the macro-economy, and local budgets.
Public resources should be invested in transit, and to support cities, not to unnecessarily widen I-94 to Illinois and subsidize more suburban development with taxpayer-paid highways and Great Lakes diversions.
Yet the State of Wisconsin, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and annexation-happy local governments like the City of Waukesha and its water utility are spending millions on planning and billions on projects that push sprawl development farther from city centers and into exurban, rural areas.
And leaving transit out of these massive public investment schemes.
The marketplace, from China to India to American car-buyers' habits, is putting a big premium on the price of gasoline, yet Wisconsin governments, highway lobbyists, road-builders and other special interests are trying to engineer development through road and water projects and overcome the new realities of the costs of gasoline and auto commuting.
Where is the Krugman voice and philosophy in government at any level in Wisconsin - - in the State Capitol, the state Department of Transportation, SEWRPC, or in local offices - - that is not intimidated into silence by the road-builders and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce?
What will it take for a breakthrough in Wisconsin?
Posted by James Rowen at 2:55 PM
Dave Dempsey provides continuing commentary about Great Lakes issues at his blog, with special regard to water legislation and the Great Lakes Compact.
And he sends along this fresh update, as things are happening with water regulation in the Michigan Senate that are disappointing, but not yet final.
We hope Michigan can be a leader, but there are forces at work there that, if not checked, will misuse the water riches in that state.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:34 AM
When conservancy becomes even more than a lifetime passion.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:22 AM
Media continue to urge the proper disposal of compact fluorescent bulbs, pointing out that sales are booming, yet some people are unaware that the bulbs' mercury content means they cannot be tossed in the trash or land-filled.
What to do so they are properly recycled?
The City of Madison says that retailers selling them must take them back for proper disposal, and may charge a fee for the service, but what about the rest of the state?
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provides an easy web search tool so consumers can find local retailers that have agreed to serve as approved drop-off sites.
Here's the link.
And the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has put up a web link showing Milwaukee city and county residents where they can drop off fluorescent bulbs.
Here is that information, too.
With government and private sector outlets making correct disposal easier, there are fewer reasons than ever for consumers to delay switching away from the less-efficient and more-costly (over their lifetime) incandescent bulbs to newer, energy-saving fluorescents.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:23 AM
The Journal Sentinel editorial board makes the case for commuter rail in the Sunday Crossroads section.
The truth is that transit expansions in all their needed and connected forms - - light rail, commuter rail and better coordinated buses - - will not be realized or even coherently discussed in southeastern Wisconsin without strong, long-term pressure from the business community.
That is the best way to counter the local hostility to new transit-supporting revenue sources by Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and his right-wing talk radio boosters.
Real progress on rail investment may take place someday, though it will have to wait until Walker is gone from County Government and is neither Governor or successful in leaving behind an anti-transit and anti-urban clone.
But without basic changes about how planning and execution of plans is carried out in a region where Milwaukee is at the center, but is legally and politically kept in a secondary position, the prospects for real change in and around Milwaukee are dim.
The pending commuter rail plan linking Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha is crucial for regional development and for the betterment of the existing business and cultural connections to northern Illinois and Chicago.
But the regional debate in southeastern Wisconsin is typically about trying to pair up Milwaukee with Waukesha - - cities and counties that for cultural and economic reasons are antagonistic.
That's the truth, the cold, hard reality of the situation, and efforts to keep trying to arrange a marriage between them are going to meet with resistance on both sides.
Just watch what will happen when communities in Waukesha County begin serious talks with Milwaukee over Lake Michigan water sales, and the hysteria that will break out west of 124th St. if and when Milwaukee looks to link water sales to regional matters of transit, housing and economic development.
It happened before when the suburbs killed light rail, and fought putting a new Milwaukee Brewers stadium downtown.
I am not sure if the seismographs at UW-M will be able to register the reaction without breaking if water's value is correctly tied to larger issues and is defined as a regional development tool - - with Milwaukee being seen as an integral player and not just a city with water treatment capacity to contract out to the low bidders.
The bigger cities of Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha - - the heart of southeastern Wisconsin's urban base - - stand to gain far less from strengthened relationships with Waukesha than are awaiting the region from connections to northern Illinois and Chicago.
The dismissal of an urban agenda in the regional debate and territory defined by the seven-county Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee and Walworth) has repeatedly held back Milwaukee and the other urbanized areas, as the more rural out-counties have used their majority at SEWRPC to command resources and direct the work.
Waukesha County exercises a disproportionate share of the power at SEWRPC: it's where the key staffers live, where the headquarters have always been, and where its consulting partners operate, even selling them its headquarters (Ruekert & Mielke) in Pewaukee on a no-bid, 'we're all friends' basis.
Waukesha County wanted a water supply study carried out, and asked SEWRPC to write it.
So SEWRPC hired Ruekert & Mielke to manage it, and when the study is done, its recommendations for water diversions to Waukesha County and other suburban and exurban communities from Milwaukee will simply validate SEWRPC's long-standing land-use and highway plans - - the institutional trigger for decades of sprawl and growth away from Milwaukee, the only Wisconsin city land-locked by an anti-annexation state law.
For Milwaukee, and Racine and Kenosha to genuinely succeed with transit expansion to solidify and expand their urban economies - - and to take full advantage of their lakefront water assets - - those counties and their urban cores need a planning body that does not dilute or dismiss them in favor of a suburban and exurban bias.
As long as each county at SEWRPC has three seats on its commission, meaning that the city of Milwaukee has none, but smaller rural counties like Walworth, Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha have 12 of the 21 votes, Milwaukee city and county will continue their second-class status.
Dane County has a planning commission of one county. Madison got the legislature to keep its planning correctly focused.
Madison and Dane County, where Madison clearly dominate, didn't and doesn't have to turn decision-making control about its future to county politicians in Jefferson, Dodge or Columbia - - and why should they?
Milwaukee would benefit from the same arrangement, and if alliances were sought, a planning partnership with Racine and Kenosha, too.
With a regional planning commission that understands and values cities, the regional Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line now held hostage by suburban interests would already have been underway.
Motorists facing $4-per-gallon gasoline would have had an alternative to the I-94 drive to the south, the bad air quality in the corridor that is unhealthy and stunting industry there would be on its way to actual remediation, and the state might not have been so hell-bent on jamming $1.9 billion it doesn't have into rebuilding I-94 from Milwaukee to Illinois with an additional lane, either.
Look no farther than the deliberate exclusion of the rail line from the I-94 corridor transportation plan, and the deliberate exclusion of any transit components to the $6.5 billion freeway plan that SEWRPC created for its region as proof positive that regionalism, as currently defined, does little for the cities in the region, their urban form, their transit riders or their economic development.
It's a good thing that the Journal Sentinel is solidly in favor of commuter rail in southeastern Wisconsin.
Better transit and balanced transportation in the area are much needed.
Getting past the region's inertia on that matter and many others - - no SEWRPC housing study since 1975, for example - - requires a redefinition of the region and the agendas on which planning dollars and public resources broadly-defined are spent.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:05 AM
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Some of the talk about reformation of Wisconsin's OWI laws includes adding seizure of a vehicle for an offender's 3rd conviction - - but WisDOT documents about current Wisconsin law linked here indicate that judges already have that authority if the offender was caught driving his or her own car.
As was seen in the recent Oconomowoc triple-fatality, it wasn't a toothless statute that allowed the accused thrice-convicted OWI offender Dr. Mark Benson to remain free after sentencing and able to get behind the wheel of his Cadillac SUV prior to the crash.
It was the the failure of Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Lee S. Dreyfus, Jr., to take full advantage of the law at sentencing to a) send Benson to jail immediately to begin his 75-day sentence, and b) seize Benson's vehicle, since Benson's sentence included work release and Benson had a history of driving after revocation.
After the uproar over the Benson case, Dreyfus said he would begin sending convicted OWI offenders to jail immediately upon sentencing, adding he was not changing his practice because of the crash that Benson allegedly caused.
Benson remains jailed after failing to post $1 million bail and is facing more than 100 years in prison for OWI/homicide and related charges stemming from the crash.
The victims were Jennifer Bukosky, 39, her unborn six-month-old daughter, and another daughter, 10-year-old Courtney Bella.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:59 PM
Another senior McCain campaign leader pulls out because his lobbying work embarrasses the candidate.
The campaign is smart to clean house now, but you can bet all these hired guns and their ties to McCain will show up in Democratic ads this summer and fall.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:05 PM
The Journal Sentinel continues its page-one coverage of the drunk driving epidemic in Wisconsin with a Saturday story documenting that 10% of the state's license-holders have an OWI on their driving record.
This revelation comes in the wake of an horrific triple-fatality OWI crash in Waukesha County, and a spate of highly-publicized additional multiple-OWI offenses, including one in Washington County, where an allegedly drunken motorist with four previous OWI's on his record drove his truck into two parked cars and an apartment building.
Washington County shares a border with Waukesha County.
Yet Todd Martens, the Washington County District Attorney, manages to get himself quoted this way in that Saturday Journal Sentinel story about proposed changes to toughen Wisconsin's OWI laws:
""I don't think legislative decisions should be made in response to one case," said Washington County District Attorney Todd Martens. "I'm all for any legislation that will reduce the likelihood that third-offense drunk drivers will repeat their offenses. But just because someone is convicted of a felony, it doesn't mean they'd go to jail."
One case that tragically took place right next door to Martens' territory rightfully has people's attention right now, but the state totals - - nearly 480,000 OWI's still on the books in Wisconsin, indicate that the problem is severe and pervasive.
If I lived in Washington County, I think I'd want a new DA.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:29 AM
Saturday, May 17, 2008
It looks like the nation's bumper sticker writers somehow got themselves all invited to the state GOP convention, and whatever they came up were rolled into our state Republican party's 2008 platform.
Their grab-bag of platitudinous sloganeering in full, is here.
My personal favorites?
You don't see deep thinking like this in the political environment too often, do you:
Our goal should be to provide long-term solutions instead of short-term fixes.
On the other hand, there are guaranteed hand-clappers like these about the importance of the English language...
English should be the official language of government, and all election ballots and other government documents should be printed in English.
Immigrants should be required to learn English.
...but are undercut by a no-account double negative a few slogans later...
Separation between Church and State does not mean there can be no references to God in government sanctioned activities or public buildings.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:07 PM
And it's not from liquor interests.
It's coming from some District Attorneys.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:31 AM
To hear the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce tell it, the group is suing the state to block new anti-mercury pollution rules because it just wants the Department of Natural Resources to follow a reasonable process.
Nothing different than determining the length of the deer season or the amount of walleye you can take.
Wrap yourselves up, on behalf of mercury, in good old Wisconsin hunting and fishing sport.
Those WMC spinners are awesome!.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:12 AM
Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Lee S. Dreyfus Jr. says he will now send motorists immediately to jail when they are sentenced in his court of their second or greater OWI infraction.
Dreyfus was the judge who sentenced former Oconomowoc physician Mark Benson to a jail term of 75 days after his third OWI conviction, but gave Benson 16 days additional freedom before reporting to jail.
Two days later, Benson, allegedly high on prescription medication, rammed his SUV into a smaller vehicle, killing a 10-year-old girl and her pregnant mother.
According to The Freeman, Dreyfus said his change in policy was not a result of the Benson case.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 AM
Friday, May 16, 2008
Fighting a states' rights issue pretty much resolved by the US Civil War, and apparently forgetting that the same language she is belly-aching about is in a 23-year-old federal water rights law, State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) blogs to her constituents that she cast the lone Senate vote against the Great Lakes Compact because it gave up some of Wisconsin's sovereignty.
Still siding with her obstructionist, fringy allies in Ohio, Lazich grossly misinterprets the Compact and thus the federal law, and seems unaware that decisions of the Great Lakes Governors about water allocations can be appealed in court.
I think Lazich has another agenda:
If and when New Berlin strikes a deal to buy diverted Lake Michigan water from Milwaukee, Lazich will blast the terms if they include any premiums tied to regional, social or land use considerations.
Having already called some Milwaukee actions "extortion," (all these links to her blog are surely driving up her hit counts, so give me credit over there, Kevin), Lazich could point to her vote against the agreement and say, "bad idea, told you so."
It's mind-boggling that New Berlin is the only Great Lakes city in the nation with a diversion application pending, and the state senator representing that community is still out there opposing the very agreement that makes it likely that the diversion application will be approved.
I can't find one Lazich 2007 post on her blog where she expressed her outrage at Milwaukee's position on water transfers, but I did save it when she emailed it to me, so I can put it here, in text, below:
Subject: FYI-See column from 3/16/07
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2007 13:54:29 -0500
From: "Sen.Lazich" Sen.Lazich@legis.wisconsin.gov
THE GREAT LAKES COMPACT IS FLAWED A legislative column by state Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin)
As a member of the Wisconsin Legislative Council Special Committee on the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact, I readily admit that I am not in a hurry to ratify the Great Lakes Compact. I cannot support a flawed document that is bad for public health, bad for the environment, bad for economic development, and generally bad public policy.
Mark Squillace, Director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado Law School has written a research paper titled Rethinking the Great Lakes Compact.
The Compact’s ideal goal is to protect, conserve, restore, improve and effectively manage the Great Lakes waters.
Squillace writes the prescription in the Compact is sorely inadequate for achieving the stated goal. The research paper to be published in the Michigan State Law Review can be found at http://ssrn.com/abstract=960574
With surgical precision, Squillace dissects the Compact components, illuminating the reasons the document is far from being ready for prime time. The Compact is so problematic that Squillace suggests chucking it entirely and starting from scratch.
Absent of any strict cap on overall use of water resources, the probability of overuse of water is high. Thus, the Compact fails to encourage conservation.
A critical Compact requirement is that states manage new or increased water withdrawals, a requirement Squillace calls cumbersome.
Concentrating on new uses of consumption ignores existing uses of the resources that have a far more significant impact. This edict will result in a failure to protect lake levels and a failure to promote the ecological health of the Great Lakes Basin.
Squillace also contends the Compact focuses too much on the place of the water use instead of the impact of the use on the overall water resources of the Basin. Far from simple and efficient, the Compact forces states to regulate in a heavy-handed fashion that will impair economic development.
In conclusion, Squillace says the Compact will not achieve its goal of protecting and conserving the Great Lakes.
Riddled with too many problems, the Compact is bad public policy.
Meanwhile, the need for New Berlin and Waukesha to obtain Lake Michigan water remains serious.
Because both communities must reduce the concentration of radium levels in their drinking water, their need for increased access to Lake Michigan water is in the interest of public health.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has made it clear he is going to stand in the way. Barrett is threatening the ability of New Berlin and Waukesha to gain access to Lake Michigan water, resulting in requiring those communities to spend millions of dollars to drill new wells and treat existing wells.
I am very concerned about allegations James Rowen posted on his blog, The Political Environment, on February 28, 2007.
Barrett is threatening not only to delay Waukesha’s access to Lake Michigan water but also to impose a tax on access to water.
The need for Lake Michigan water in New Berlin and Waukesha is critical and undeniable. It is unconscionable that Barrett would attempt to profit from this public health crisis by extorting these communities to pay a huge new tax.
Withholding water will endanger public health and will damage economic development. Barrett needs to reconsider his ill-conceived notion to take economic advantage of the public health plight in our communities.
If you have comments on this or any other issue, please contact me at Sen.Lazich@legis.wi.gov, Senator Mary Lazich, State Capitol, P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707 or 1-800-334-1442.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:18 PM
A sure sign elections are brewing: A group of GOP legislators trotted out some tired old partisan ideas about reformulated gas to try and appear thoughtful and progressive on energy and conservation.
Why? A friend sends a 2000 news story about the same old partisan bilge. (text below)
And suggests that if Republicans want to do something useful about energy costs in our region, they could support transit and other clean air initiatives.
Wisconsin Lawmakers Sue E.P.A. Over Gas
Published: June 30, 2000
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A group of Republican state legislators in Wisconsin sued the Environmental Protection Agency today over clean-air regulations that they said had brought high gasoline prices to southern Wisconsin.
The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court here, asserts that the agency failed to consider the price consequences of requirements for a new formulation for cleaner-burning gasoline.
The suit seeks suspension of the rules, which went into effect on June 1 in areas with particularly bad air quality. The lawmakers said the air quality problems in Wisconsin that had been the basis for imposing the rules had significantly improved.
Scott R. Jensen, speaker of the State Assembly, said the reformulated gasoline was costing consumers in some areas of the state 25 to 50 cents more per gallon.
Officials of the environmental agency had calculated the additional cost of the ethanol-blended gas at 1.2 cents a gallon.
The Wisconsin lawmakers said temporary waivers to the reformulated gasoline had been granted to St. Louis, the home of Representative Richard A. Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, while southern Wisconsin had not had its needs addressed.
A spokesman for the E.P.A., Dave Cohen, said the agency was ''very concerned'' about gasoline prices in Milwaukee and Chicago, but was hesitant to grant a waiver.
Gasoline prices in the Milwaukee area reached more that $2 a gallon but have fallen in recent days. The average price on Wednesday for unleaded regular was $1.86 a gallon.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:03 PM
Jon Stewart at "The Daily Show" used clips Thursday from Politico.com's online interview with President Bush to let "W" tell us in his own words why he isn't cool.
As you listen, keep remembering that yes, this is The President of these United States, elected twice.
Here's the link, with audio and video after the commercial. Be patient.
Update: Another satirical voice is added to the video's golfing theme, here.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:37 PM
Gov. Jim Doyle used his veto pen on the budget repair bill and, predictably, Republicans are focusing their fake outrage over a "raid" on transportation funds.
Republican State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R- Juneau), framed it in the prototypical, partisan news release, even though it was former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson who set the modern standard for East Wing veto activity - - 1,900 times, by his own boastful count - - and Republicans at the time couldn't get enough of it.
As legislators and road-builders know full well, the net loss to the state transportation fund will be negligible because borrowing will fill in the gap, and none of those sacred highway contracts that the highway lobby's equally fake "Doomsday Option" PR campaign earlier this month will or was ever going to take place.
Road-building is the only statewide economic planning we have in Wisconsin. It keeps a complex set of industries and labor pools engaged annually and seasonally, and regardless of party, Governors and legislators do nothing to tamper with it.
Road-building will continue this year and this budget cycle as it did the previous year and the cycle before it, and the process will be repeated and financed in the future with the same combination of user fees, gasoline taxes, local property taxes, and state income tax payments to pay off borrowings.
If legislators really wanted to do something beyond sending their aides to crank out election-year posturings, they could examine the true transportation spending shortfall - - the continuing starvation of transit expansion that would make economic sense as gasoline breaks the $4-a-gallon barrier.
But state government in Wisconsin is slow to embrace new ideas and practices that have been in place elsewhere for a long time.
As a "progressive state," Wisconsin is living off its reputation, and the inertia in its transportation policies, along with a lack of reformist spirit and leaders, are the proof.
Whether it's adding rail lines to the I-94 expansion, following through on citizen clamor for transit and transparent planning, or reforming the state's failed drunk-driving law, Wisconsin leads only in lethargy.
Change in Wisconsin is obstructed by powerful and wealthy lobbies - - the tavern, beer and liquor interests, and the various arms of the highway lobby, too - - but overly-cautious politicians who benefit from the status quo share a lot of the blame.
But those, like Fitzgerald, who play the crocodile tear game, are entitled to claim the greater share of deserved hypocrisy.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:01 AM
It was just a few years ago that Milwaukee County was discovered dumping dangerous, polluted storm water runoff right on to Bradford Beach at Lake Park on Lake Michigan.
I am proud to say I had a hand in getting the word out about this outrageous and unacceptable situation, but the real credit goes to diligent scientists at UW-Milwaukee who were tracking the sources of e. Coli bacteria on the beach.
Right where people sunbathe, play volleyball, and watch their kids wade in the shallow water.
Today, there are rain gardens being built on the beach and lakefront - - you can see the construction underway just off Lincoln Memorial Drive - - to capture and naturally treat and filter that polluted runoff before it hits the sand and swimming areas.
Madison's lakes and beaches need upgrades, too, lest they be formally listed as "impaired."
I can't imagine that would sit well with capital city taxpayers.
It took years of pressure through inter-governmental cooperation and public embarrassment before Milwaukee County government moved to restore the lakefront, and had it not been for resources from philanthropists and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the region's premier public beach might still be a disgusting dumping ground for Milwaukee County pollution..
Let's hope Madison gets its act together faster.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 AM
Thursday, May 15, 2008
State Sen. Bob Jauch, (D-Poplar), having seen his efforts to pass Great Lakes legislation succeed in the Senate in March, but die in the Assembly last month, rightfully reminds GOP legislators that they played an unnecessary and dangerously ideological political game with the Compact and its opponents in Ohio.
And while the Wisconsin legislature finally did pass a Compact bill yesterday that was somewhat weaker than what Jauch had helped guide through the Senate, Ohio's measure is still blocked there by the same fringe elements that Wisconsin legislators emboldened.
The Compact does not move to its final ratification step in the Congress until all eight of the Great Lakes states approve it, and Ohio remains a major stumbling block, with Michigan and Pennsylvania also without final legislation.
Good for Jauch. Memorializing who did and said what in this long legislative struggle is important.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:31 PM
He said it, I didn't.
And the Freeman's headline writer needs a session in racial sensitivity.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:28 AM
Now that the Great Lakes Compact has whistled through the Wisconsin legislature, what's next on the agenda?
Trust me: the work is just beginning.
1. New Berlin and Milwaukee will expand their quiet discussions about a deal to move Lake Michigan water to that portion of New Berlin that is outside of the subcontinental divide.
The Compact establishes a process for New Berlin's pending water application to be reviewed by Wisconsin only, and because that permission is a given, the main issues left to open the spigot are principally financial and technical: how much will New Berlin pay per gallon, will Milwaukee have certain economic needs addressed in the payment schedules, how much will new pumps and pipes cost, and who will pay for them?
That could be quite the negotiation.
It will also be interesting to see if Wisconsin recognizes guiding federal water law and sends New Berlin's application, amended with a water sales agreement with Milwaukee, to the other Great Lakes states for their review.
That would be more than prudent.
2. Waukesha will spend $300,000 this year to produce a diversion application that will require approval from all the Great Lakes states - - a higher standard than faces New Berlin because all of Waukesha is across the subcontinental divide and is outside the Great Lakes basin.
Whereas New Berlin can easily return water to Lake Michigan through Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District infrastructure, Waukesha faces a return flow regimen that is more technicality challenging and more expensive than New Berlin's, given Waukesha's distance from Lake Michigan and current use of the Fox River for the discharge of its treated waste water.
The Department of Natural Resources will have to sign off on that return flow regimen, and since it could involve the Root River or the Menomonee River; new flows of waste water would have an impact there on river levels, flooding, water quality and community sentiment along the route.
Conversely, those return flow regimens would have impacts on the Fox River and communities downstream into Illinois., so for several reasons, Waukesha's completed application, let alone the others states' reviews, are farther off than New Berlin's.
And Waukesha will have to convince Michigan that the application is justifiable, something that is not a sure thing, which is why Waukesha is still pursuing water through a controversial condemnation in the neighboring Town of Waukesha.
3. Both New Berlin and Waukesha will have to demonstrate significant water conservation plans and results for their diversion applications to be justified and approved.
4. Attention will also shift to a regional water supply study being written by the seven-county Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
It is expected to recommend widespread use of Lake Michigan water through multiple diversions, and the DNR will turn to SEWRPC for technical advice when applications are created.
So look for an expansion of SEWRPC power and control: everything SEWRPC does conforms with its decades-old land use plan, a document and governing philosophy that has enabled sprawl through rampant farmland conversion and development, widespread annexations to the City of Waukesha and highway building to which it has given its official blessing.
Fresh water to already-over-developed portions of Waukesha County are a natural fit for SEWRPC thinking and the work of a favored consulting firm, Ruekert & Mielke, which wrote the New Berlin water diversion application, has contracted with Waukesha in the past on water supply issues, and is managing the overall SEWRPC water supply study.
5. SEWRPC's expanded role in regional water planning for a seven-county area could conflict with the new, watershed approach to water planning initiated by the MMSD.
The MMSD's water quality efforts reach into 10 counties because its territory is defined by river watersheds that empty into Lake Michigan, while SEWRPC's authority stops at county lines.
In other words, what SEWRPC might recommend as a diversion program in its territory could help or hurt the watershed approach initiated by the MMSD.
The MMSD is interested in water conservation, shoreline preservation and stormwater management because ultimately, it has to pay for all the downstream movement of water, its treatment, and its quality.
Water access and storm-and-waste water issues are intricately tied to land use, municipal growth and development.
What SEWRPC recommends and what the MMSD recommends could easily be in conflict.
It's all about balancing water quality and quantity, supply and demand, resource exploitation and resource preservation, short-term thinking and long-term goals, private gain and the public interest.
The Compact and implementing bill approvals are good first steps that address and resolve water policy questions, but accelerate or ignore others.
For Wisconsin, the focus should be on resource management, stewardship and sustainability, not just about how to get water in the short-term for tax base growth.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:19 AM
Waukesha blogger and citizen activist Jim Bouman has filed a formal complaint with the Waukesha County District Attorney over repeated closed sessions of Waukesha city agencies planning that city's water supply strategy.
You can read the first account of this complaint in the Daily Reporter, a regional legal and business daily and online paper, here.
The heart of the Daily Reporter story:
"Jim Bouman, a Waukesha resident, filed a complaint (PDF) with the county district attorney last week alleging the water utility’s commission is violating open-meeting statutes when it goes into closed session to discuss planning for a new water source. He said he has no problem with taking Lake Michigan water, but he wants more details before planning is so far along it can’t be changed.
“'I want to know what it’s going to cost,” he said. “I want to see the engineering estimates of the gain we’re going to get versus doing other things.'”
Kudos to Bouman, who blogs as 'Water Blogged In Waukesha," and to Sean Ryan of the Daily Reporter, for undertaking, separately, the action and its publication.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:09 AM