Thursday, May 31, 2007

That's one way to support our troops

Gov. Doyle and Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi told the JS editorial board that they would consider expanding I-94 through Milwaukee.

Part of the proposal to expand the east-west portion of the freeway calls for hanging lanes directly over the graves in Wood Memorial Cemetery.

So while soldiers are dying now for oil, Doyle and Busalacchi are willing to spend billions more on freeways that encourage more oil consumption and the will increase the probability of additional oil wars. At the same time, these two gents are simultaneously showing the most blatant kind of disrespect for soldiers who fought this country's earlier wars.

Way to go, gents.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

SEWRPC' broken promise on housing

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission promised two years ago to conduct a regional housing study.

SEWRPC didn't want to do this study -- SEWRPC is essentially a creature of the Republican suburbs, and the less time and effort it has to spend on things involving poor people, the better. SEWRPC even tried to get out of doing the study by saying the feds didn't give it enough money to conduct a housing study, but a bunch of folks pointed out that SEWRPC was able to find the money to conduct a regional water supply study, so why couldn't it do the same for a housing study?

SEWRPC gave in. SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson wrote on June 1, 2005: "The Commission intends to address the topic of affordable housing in a separate planning effort that will follow completion of the forthcoming updated regional land use plan."

And on June 5, 2005, he made some more promises in this e-mail:

We first addressed housing issues in the 1970s (see Planning Report No. 20 on the website). Then came the 1980s and a loss of housing-related funding and staff. When the State modified the comp planning law in 1999 (so-called "smart growth"), we concluded that we would need to
renew housing planning sometime in this decade (see "Regional Framework"paper under Smart Growth on the website). We will begin later this year by creating an advisory committee of knowledgeable and interested individuals. That committee will be asked to help us address several fundamental questions, including purpose, scope, and schedule. Once that has been accomplished, we will execute the agreed-upon work effort. (Emphasis added)

SEWRPC didn't follow through.

When groups complained that SEWRPC's transportation and land use studies did not include enough consideration of housing patterns, SEWRPC said housing would be studied next.

It wasn't. SEWRPC didn't keep its promise.

SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson still says his agency will get around to the housing study some day, but it doesn't have the money now. (It does, though, have the money to throw around for a $50,000 no-bid contract for old friends.)


Ald. Michael Murphy had the temerity to suggest that political considerations might be playing into SEWRPC's delay strategy. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel responded with the rather bizarre suggestion that Murphy raise the money for the SEWRPC study.

SEWRPC's behavior is appalling, but not surprising. It doesn't do urban issues well, because SEWRPC folks don't really like urban people. It is even conducting a study of Milwaukee's 30th Street Industrial Corridor (see no-bid contract referenced above) from the County Grounds in Wauwatosa.

City folks should always remember that they do not have a friend, or even a neutral observer, in SEWRPC. SEWRPC's work and attitudes reflect its comfort zone -- western Pewaukee, untroubled by-- and out of reach of -- the city's poor.

Biskupic needs to get this one right

Michael McGee Jr. may have been arrested yesterday, but US Atty. Steve Biskupic will be on trial right there with him.

There's a lot at stake for both of them.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Newtering the rules of English

The New York Times ran a wonderful review last week of Newt Gingrich's and William R. Fortschen's terrible (according to the Times) new book, "Pearl Harbor." The best parts of the review are those in which it quotes directly from the book to skewer the book.

When the attack began, it was Dec. 7 at Pearl Harbor but Dec. 8 in Japan. The book is subtly subtitled “A Novel of December 8th” to signal its attention to the Japanese point of view. On the basis of that detail, you might expect a high level of fastidiousness from “Pearl Harbor.”

And you would be spectacularly wrong. Because you would find phrases like “to withdraw backward was impossible,” sounds like “wretching noises” to accompany vomiting, or constructions like “incredulous as it seemed, America had not reacted.” Although the book has two authors, it could have used a third assigned to cleanup patrol.

This is not a matter of isolated typographical errors. It is a serious case for the comma police, since the book’s war on punctuation is almost as heated as the air assaults it describes. “One would have to be dead, very stupid Fuchida thought,” the book says about the fighter pilot Mitsuo Fuchida, “not to realize they were sallying forth to war.” Evidence notwithstanding, the authors do not mean to insult the fighter pilot’s intelligence — or, presumably, the reader’s.

Some of these glitches are brief, while some are windier. The long ones are particularly dangerous. Here is what happens when James Watson, an academic and a decoding expert who is one of the book’s cardboard Americans (as opposed to its cardboard British and Japanese figures), has lunch:

“James nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked a bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversations to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.”

Newt's still making noises about running for president. A piece of advice, Newt: don't write your own speeches.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The GAO gets it: too bad WisDOT doesn't

The Government Accountability Office released a report recently with a title that says it all: "Uncertainty about Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production."

Are you listening, Frank Busalacchi? Are you home, Gov. Doyle? Legislature?

Wisconsin continues to charge ahead with plans to encourage single-occupancy vehicle use while grossly underfunding mass transit. (Perhaps the guys and gals in Madison are confused about it all and think that they can offset declining oil reserves by increasing greenhouse gases.)

The GAO report says that "Most studies estimate that oil production will peak sometime between now and 2040," although there is a wide range of predictions.

Peak oil is the point at which oil production peaks because most major available reserves have been tapped. Peak oil doesn't mean an end to oil production, but it does signal declining and more expensive supplies.

Alternative energy sources are not a realistic option, at least in the short run. According to the report:

In the United States, alternative transportation technologies face challenges that could impede their ability to mitigate the consequences of a peak and decline in oil production, unless sufficient time and effort are brought to bear. For example:

• Ethanol from corn is more costly to produce than gasoline, in part because of the high cost of the corn feedstock. Even if ethanol were to become more cost-competitive with gasoline, it could not become widely available without costly investments in infrastructure, including pipelines, storage tanks, and filling stations.

• Advanced vehicle technologies that could increase mileage or use different fuels are generally more costly than conventional technologies and have not been widely adopted. For example, hybrid electric vehicles can cost from $2,000 to $3,500 more to purchase than comparable conventional vehicles and currently constitute about 1 percent of new vehicle registrations in the United States.

• Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are significantly more costly than conventional vehicles to produce. Specifically, the hydrogen fuel cell stack needed to power a vehicle currently costs about $35,000 to produce, in comparison with a conventional gas engine, which costs $2,000 to $3,000....

Because development and widespread adoption of technologies to displace oil will take time and effort, an imminent peak and sharp decline in oil production could have severe consequences....If the decline in oil production exceeded the ability of alternative technologies to displace oil, energy consumption would be constricted, and as consumers competed for increasingly scarce oil resources, oil prices would sharply increase. In this respect, the consequences could initially resemble those of past oil supply shocks, which have been associated with significant economic damage.

The federal government has to take the lead in developing the peak energy plan that GAO recommends. Locally, though, the governor and the Legislature need to be realistic about peak oil. It's coming. It may be in seven years, it may be in 20, but it's coming.

The more freeways our elected and appointed officials approve approve and the less transit they fund, the faster they will drive us there.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The oil tax

Of course Gov. Doyle's proposed oil tax will be passed on to consumers. Does he really think he's fooling anybody?

If the proposed tax isn't passed on to consumers here because Big Oil is afraid of potential criminal liability (snicker), then Wisconsin's oil tax will be passed on to consumers in Minnesota, Iowa, Florida, and all the other states where Wisconsin law doesn't reach. And you know what? The oil taxes in those states will be passed on to consumers here!

Even worse, Doyle wants the tax increase to build more roads and bigger highways. That, as it always does, which will lead to more cars and more congestion and more reliance on foreign oil.
Oh, yeah. And global warming, too.

It's like raising property taxes to distribute crack cocaine to children. Nothing good will come of it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Thanks, all

Thanks to all who contacted county supervisors abouto the awful transportation plan pushed by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. The County Board voted last week to send the highway happy plan back to committee.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hating Time Warner is so easy

Media conglomerate Time Warner cooked up a postal rate scheme -- which was adopted by the Postal Regulatory Commission -- that will give publishers of large circulation magazines big breaks on postal rates while burdening smaller circulation mags with huge increases. The future of some of those magazines -- both liberal and conservative -- is very much in doubt if the rates that Time Warner wants are allowed to kick in.

Time Warner, in case you didn't know, publishes large circulation magazines. From freepress.net:

Most magazines were budgeting for a 10-12% increase. The Time Warner plan proposed higher costs for small publishers and discounts for big publishers. The Time Warner plan is so complex that many publications are still unclear what their rate hikes will be if implemented; those smaller publications that have been able to do the math are finding shocking increases on tap, as high as 25-30%.

The Time Warner plan represents another step (albeit a giant step) in the gradual reversal of the Founder's public service principles of supporting democracy through the postal service. It is the latest, largest move towards abandoning these public service priorities and permitting a system that no longer favors low-advertising, political speech -- like In These Times and The American Spectator -- ad-heavy magazines like People and Cosmo. The practical result of this move is not only the decline of a democratic mission, it is also a rate shock for small and medium size magazines even as big publishers are getting a break.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Jessica McBride goes away, but...

She said unbelieveably stupid things, and is gone from WTMJ. Two of her listeners are disappointed, and the other one didn't really like her, anyway.

Annette Ziegler was guilty of unbelievably stupid ethical lapses, but still will sit in judgment of others on the state's highest court.

It's not a wash.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Military yanks a few more plugs on the troops

The Defense Department continues its crackdown on free speech in the military. And it's not just political speech the brass doesn't like -- it's any speech that may become public, meaning any speech that is transmitted electronically.

If you're really, really screwing up a war, you don't want your own people talking about it.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

The Pentagon has imposed a ban on US troops' access to popular networking and video sites, just weeks after a storm of criticism over new rules limiting soldiers' personal blogs

The Associated Press reports that the Pentagon is blocking access to more than a dozen websites, including YouTube and MySpace, over military computer networks. A Pentagon spokesman said that the move was intended to "enhance and increase network security and protect the use of the bandwidth."

The ban has been met with sharp criticism. Personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan use the banned sites to communicate with friends and family, and some worry that the ban will hamper that communication and damage morale, writes The New York Times.

Becky Davis, whose son is serving in Iraq, helps write a blog for the group Military Families Voice of Victory. As part of the blog, Ms. Davis occasionally provides YouTube links to reports that she thinks soldiers will find interesting. She said she was unsure whether the links would be blocked.

"I am concerned about how this directive is going to impact the families," Ms. Davis said. ...

"These sites are like modern-day forms of writing letters, the same sorts of letters that soldiers in the trench holes in World War II wrote," said Corey Robinson, 22, who served a total of 20 months in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Army.

"When we were able to use the Internet, there was a huge difference in our morale," Mr. Robinson said.

Mike Thiem, a spokesman for the Defense Information Systems Agency, told the Times that the ban was necessary to prevent slowdowns of the Pentagon network. As many of the banned addresses were music- or photo-trading sites, which demand significant bandwidth. "There was careful thought given to which sites were chosen. This was not an arbitrary decision by any means," he said. He also denied that the ban was meant to prevent soldiers' communication with family. "No one is trying to prevent that from happening."

The BBC writes that the ban comes as the Pentagon sees the success of its own YouTube channel, Multi-National Force-Iraq, which ranks 16th on the site's most subscribed-to listing. The BBC notes that though the Pentagon has invited its troops to submit video for the channel, those same troops will not be able to view the channel unless using private computers.

The website ban comes on the heels of criticism over new Pentagon restrictions on the posting of soldiers' blogs. Wired reported two weeks ago that the U.S. Army has ordered troops "to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Northbound KRM?

Ald. Terry Witkowski has an interesting proposal for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line: run it north along the 30th St. rail corridor to the Milwaukee County line.

There are likely legal / financial / technical hurdles, but Witkowski is at least asking for the right conversation: how do we build a system that provides transit to the areas of greatest need?

Bush plans to plan til it's too late to do anything

President Bush announced he will ponder greenhouse gas reduction until the day he leaves office.

On Monday, Bush directed that new rules be developed for limiting greenhouse gases from mobile sources. Eventually. Bush is quoted by the Environment News Service:

"This is a complicated legal and technical matter, and it's going to take time to fully resolve. Yet it is important to move forward, so I have directed members of my administration to complete the process by the end of 2008." Bush's term of office expires January 20, 2009.

Boy, the next president is going to be one busy person: first, cleaning up the mess Bush made in Iraq, then cleaning up the mess Bush made in the air.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tommy makes the big time

Tommy Thompson's wisdom is captured as a "Bonus Quote of the Day" on Taegen Goddard's Political Wire:

"I could not wait until the debate got off so I could go to the bathroom."

-- Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R), quoted by the AP, on why "he said at a GOP presidential debate that an employer should be allowed to fire a gay worker." Thompson also cited a dead hearing aid.

Flossing on the fly

I was strolling down Bluemound Rd. on my way home from work the other day, when I saw a man behind the wheel of an enormous silver pick-up truck that was doing 30 mph or so.

That would have been fine -- the truck wasn't speeding -- if the man had not been flossing his teeth. Using both hands.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Trade agreement doesn't seem like enough

The Bush Administration and Congress have reached a deal on trade that will include immediate inclusion of labor and environmental provisions in deals with Peru and Panama and eventually will be written into trade agreements with other countries, like South Korea and Columbia.

Congressional Democrats are probably really, really dumb to trust the Bushies to enforce the provisions guaranteeing worker rights and imposing environental standards. Bush's track record in these areas, both at home and abroad, is pretty dismal.

And then: what about China?

The United States embraced China as a trading partner during the Clinton years and has been losing jobs ever since, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The rise in the U.S. trade deficit with China between 1997 and 2006 has displaced production that could have supported 2,166,000 U.S. jobs. Most of these jobs (1.8 million) have been lost since China entered the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 2001.

In Wisconsin, according to EPI, 38,000 jobs -- 1.4% of the 2001 labor force -- were lost from 2001 to 2006 because of the growing trade deficit with China.

China also engages in extensive suppression of labor rights; it has been estimated that wages in China would be 47% to 85% higher in the absence of labor repression. China has also been accused of massive direct subsidization of export production....

China's entry into the WTO was supposed to bring it into compliance with an enforceable, rules-based regime, which would require that it open its markets to imports from the United States and other nations. The United States also negotiated a series of special safeguard measures designed to limit the disruptive effects of surging Chinese imports on domestic producers. However, the core of the agreement failed to include any protections to maintain or improve labor or environmental standards. As a result, China's entry into the WTO has further tilted the international economic playing field against domestic workers and firms, and in favor of multinational companies (MNCs) from the United States and other countries, and state- and privately-owned exporters in China. This has increased the global "race to the bottom" in wages and environmental quality and caused the closing of thousands of U.S. factories, decimating employment in a wide range of communities, states, and entire regions of the United States.

The happy dance being done by Dems over the new trade agreement is only a media moment: "Look how nice we can play with Bush / Cheney, and we hate them so!"

Meanwhile, we bleed jobs to China and China bleeds its people and the environment. No happy dance here.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Political gossip

Democratic State Rep. Sheldon Wasserman says he is going to run for the state Senate seat now held by Alberta Darling. Word is that Sam McGovern-Rowen, now laboring as an aide to 3rd District Ald. Mike D'Amato, is seriously pondering a bid for Wasserman's Assembly seat. Rowen was raised in Shorewood.

Friday, May 11, 2007

KRM, freeways: transit left to crumble

Word is (via wispolitics) that a Joint Finance Committee member will introduce a budget amendment to raise the vehicle rental tax by $13 to fund the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line.

Most of the taxes will be collected in Milwaukee. Most of the benefit will go to Racine and Kenosha.

Gov. Doyle already has proposed huge budget increases for reconstructing and probably expanding freeways in the Milwaukee area.

Most of the negative impacts will be in Milwaukee. Most of the benefits will be in suburban counties.

Regular ol' transit, however, gets just enough crumbs from the table to insure its destruction in a few years. By coincidence, a healthy transit system would benefit Milwaukee greatly. We can't have that, can we?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Is WisDOT showing bad faith again?

Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials keep saying no decision has been made on whether to expand North-South I-94. At least that's what they have been telling people in Milwaukee, which would suffer most a the major consequences. (Would you like some additional lung damage with that extra lane, little child?)

In Racine County, where the areas around I-94 are not so developed, WisDOT is signaling loudly that expansion is basically a foregone conclusion, but doesn't want to say that out loud until February.

No surprise, especially since WisDOT already has "accidentally" announced plans to expand the freeway.

From the Racine Journal-Times:

STURTEVANT - The coming eight-year reconstruction of Interstate 94 is steering itself toward an expansion to eight driving lanes, state planners say...

Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials said the agency is still taking comments about whether I-94 should remain at six lanes or expand to eight. However, it was clear they find the arguments for eight lanes far more persuasive.

The big question for many people may be: six lanes or eight? The answer seems mostly predetermined, although Mohr said the decision won't be announced until next February. The interchanges, he said, are each being designed to accommodate either scenario.

DOT officials cited a daily traffic count of 88,000 vehicles along I-94 through Racine County. The 35-year projection is for 121,000 vehicles per day, a 37.5 percent increase. Gutierrez said that project includes some of the larger developments expected along I-94 - notably in Mount Pleasant and Caledonia.

For the DOT, favoring eight lanes is natural. "A free flow of traffic is much safer than stop-and-go driving," Gutierrez said.

"If you want to increase the level of service, you would address that through capacity expansion."

Sure hope WisDOT hasn't made up its 1950s-era collective mind before all the environmental testing is done and an alternatives analysis is completed. That would violate federal law and regulations.

WisDOT wouldn't do that, would it?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Violence, the schools and the community

If you want to understand what is behind the violence that seems to in the Milwaukee Public Schools, read researcher Lois Quinn's "New Indicators of Neighborhood Need in Zipcode 53206."

It's in there, behind that rather dry title.

The violence that is occuring in MPS is changing, which Sarah Carr is capturing in her series on school violence. It's not the number of incidents -- it's the degree of anger behind the incidents, the attacks on MPS staff, and the involvement of parents and other family members in fights.

What Quinn, senior secientist at UWM's Employment and Training Institute, shows clearly is that part of the city is falling apart, economically and socially. MPS has 6,872 students who live in the 53206 zip code. This broken part of the city accounts for almost 8% of the district's enrollment.

Here is some of the data in Quinn's report. And what, if not dysfunction and despair, do we expect to be the result?
  • The number of individuals being released from state adult correctional facilities in zipcode 53206 grew dramatically, from 201 in 1993 to 879 in 2005, a 336% increase. Many subsequently return to prison.
  • Just 4% of the released population living in 53206 had a driver's license with no suspensions or revocations.
  • For the 30- to 34-year old age group, 21% of the men from 53206 are reported in a state DOC facility, another 42% were previously incarcerated in a state correctional facility, and only 38% were never in an adult state correction facility.
  • The incarceration rate leads to huge imbalances in the numbers of men and women. By their early twenties, the number of males in zipcode 53206 is only 74% of the number of women. In the 30- to 34-year-old group, the male population is just 64% as large as the female population.
  • Housing prices rose sharply in the past three years, while the total adjusted gross income of working age tax filers decreased 10.5% between 2000 and 2005. When inflation is factored in, real incomes droped 18.5% over those five years.
  • 60 subprime lenders were doing business in 53206 in 2004 and 2005. Subprime housing loans in the zipcode neighborhood totaled $55 million during those two years. Now, though, the higher interest rates have kicked in and people are losing their homes. In January, zipcoce 53206 accounted for 75 -- or 20% -- of the 377 foreclosure cases in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.
  • There were just 449 married tax files with dependents out of the 5,273 income tax filers who reported dependents in 2005. There were 684 single tax filers with dependents who reported incomes of less than $5,000, and another 985 with incomes under $10,000.
  • The number of businesses in the area droped from 210 in 1994 to 180 in 2000, then rose to 218 in 2003 before falling to 200 in 2004. The increase from 2000 to 2004 is apparently due to an increase in the number of child care centers operating in the neighborhood.
  • 90% of the jobs in 53206 are held by people who don't live there.
If we try real hard, we can just keep not paying attention.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Slamming the Door, Part 1: Secrecy Grows in America

A government eager to hide information from the public is not a healthy one. It is one, however, that is running the United States. From Secrecy News:

Los Alamos National Laboratory will no longer permit

historians and other researchers to have access to its
archival records because Los Alamos National Security (LANS),
the private contractor that now operates the Lab, says it has
"no policy in place" that would allow such access.

"Policies that had previously applied to the University of
California relating to the disclosure of information directly
to you are no longer applicable," wrote Judy Archuleta of the
Los Alamos Information Practices Office to Alex Wellerstein,
a graduate student at Harvard.

Mr. Wellerstein had sought copies of Lab records on the
history of nuclear secrecy policy and he had been led to
believe that access to such material would be granted, in
accordance with past practice.

"Because LANS is a private company, the policies that applied
[previously] are no longer in place," she said.

"No policy is presently in place that authorizes the direct
disclosure of the information you seek," she wrote.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

SEWRPC: Trust us, our plan sucked

The County Board's Transportation and Public Works Committee has endorsed a regional transportation plan that includes the massive freeway expansion pushed by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

It appears, from the brief in the Journal Sentinel, that at least part of the reason the plan got the county committee's backing is that SEWRPC's did a really lousy job on its own million-dollar freeway study. That study said that dozens of homes would be taken for freeway expansion. Now, SEWRPC says, maybe not.

How nice for SEWRPC. First, it downplayed the value of the 100-plus homes, mostly in Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, that it said will have to come down for freeway expansion. People in Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, however, did not see their homes as expendable.

Unable to convince residents they should just make way for the bulldozers, the Pewaukee-based agency is now disowning its own work -- now it says that freeway expansion will probably destroy fewer homes than it said in its million dollar study just four years ago.

What will SEWRPC say next? And why should we believe it?

And where do we go to get our million dollars back?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

And what does that mean for North-South I-94?

Atlanta is having a wee bit of a sticker shock over the inflation that has lifted the price of expanding a tollway in just two years.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The projected price tag for a major expansion of I-75 and I-575 has reached $4 billion. And counting.

When the Georgia Department of Transportation decided in 2005 to negotiate a project to expand I-75 and I-575 with toll lanes north of Atlanta, it estimated the cost of the public-private project at $1.8 billion, or $2.6 billion with inflation included. It was to be the most expensive Georgia road project in history, by a factor of more than 10.

With record inflation in construction costs and changes to the project, the price has gone up by about $1.4 billion, according to a study by state and federal agencies released Monday.

If the project is still feasible, drivers will likely pay the difference in either taxes or tolls.

Atlanta is projecting a 54% price increase in just two years.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has for several years been sitting on a maximum $1.6 billion estimate for reconstructing North-South I-94. WisDOT has a well-deserved really bad reputation for estimating road project costs, as its projects routinely go over estimates by millions of dollars.

The I-94 project isn't a tollway, but the same road construction inflation that hit the Atlanta project will hit the North-South project. Hold on to your wallets, Wisconsin!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Those freeways

Jim Rowen asked a very sensible question the other day: did the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and its consultant, HNTB, deliberately low-ball the cost of freeway expansion back in 2003 when they put the cost of their regional freeway plan at $6.2 billion?

In a word, yes.

At the very least, SEWRPC did not project any inflation, even though the plan envisioned construction over several years. SEWRPC's report was released in 2003, but cost estimates were based on year 2000 dollars. That $6.2 billion now is $7.4 billion, just based on the CPI, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.

In addition, there has been a huge run-up in road building costs since then. Take that cost $7.4 billion estimate, and add 20% to 30% to account for that. Now we're looking at $8.9 billion to $9.6 billion. Add the odd hundreds of millions of dollars to account for the project creep that is inevitable with these projects. On the North-South I-94 project, for example, WisDOT is considering building on- and off-ramps at Drexel Ave., something not envisioned in the SEWRPC plan.

WisDOT did increase its estimate for rebuilding the North-South corridor to $1.6 billion a few years ago, but that reflected general inflation, and not the extraordinary inflation in road-building costs. Confident that state legislators are idiots, the governor is requesting that they approve in the state budget whatever plan WisDOT comes up with for the project -- even though there is no plan, no price tag, and no funding source. The gov also wants the legislature to approve WisDOT's reconstruction plan for the Zoo Interchange, even though studies for that project haven't really even started yet.

Will WisDOT provide new cost estimates before the Legislature votes on the matter?

And after North-South I-94 and the Zoo Interchange comes east-west I-94, US 45, I-894, and I-43. Global warming? Oil dependency? Transit funding? Don't worry about it. SEWRPC didn't. And WisDOT isn't letting those little issues slow down its road building agenda, either.

Back to the SEWRPC study. The study committee -- WisDOT Secretary Frank "Father of the Miller Park Roof" Busalacchi was a member, back when he was a Teamsters official -- that conducted the freeway study was so conflicted that the entire report that it produced should be viewed with a great deal of skepticism. Its membership included a lobbyist for a road building organization; consultant HNTB stood to make millions from the reports recommendations and is now doing so; and the president of the above mentioned road-building organization was a high-ranking official at HNTB.

Yes, the study was cooked. The burner, unfortunately, is still on.