TRIP Reports: WISCONSIN MOTORISTS LOSE $6.8 BILLION PER YEAR DRIVING ON ROADS THAT ARE ROUGH, CONGESTED & LACK SOME SAFETY FEATURES – UP TO $2,300 PER DRIVER. LACK OF FUNDING WILL LEAD TO FURTHER DETERIORATION, INCREASED CONGESTION AND HIGHER COSTS TO DRIVERS

Roads and bridges that are deteriorated, congested or lack some desirable safety features cost Wisconsin motorists a total of $6.8 billion statewide annually –up to $2,321 per driver in the state’s largest urban areas – due to higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays. Increased investment in transportation improvements at the local, state and federal levels could relieve traffic congestion, improve road, bridge, and transit conditions, boost safety, and support long-term economic growth in Wisconsin, according to a new report recently released by TRIP, a Washington, DC based national transportation research group.

The TRIP report, Wisconsin Transportation by the Numbers: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe, Smooth and Efficient Mobility,”finds that throughout Wisconsin, one-half of major locally and state-maintained roads are in poor or mediocre condition and nine percent of locally and state-maintained bridges are structurally deficient. The report also finds that Wisconsin’s major urban roads are becoming increasingly congested, causing significant delays and choking commuting and commerce.

Driving on roads in Wisconsin costs the state’s drivers $6.8 billion per year in the form of extra vehicle operating costs (VOC) as a result of driving on roads in need of repair, lost time and fuel due to congestion-related delays, and the cost of traffic crashes in which roadway features likely were a contributing factor. The TRIP report calculates the cost to motorists of insufficient roads in the Eau Claire, Green Bay-Appleton-Oshkosh, Madison, Milwaukee, and Wausau areas.  A breakdown of the costs per motorist in each area, along with a statewide total, is below.

The TRIP report finds that 31 percent of Wisconsin’s major locally and state-maintained roads are in poor condition and 19 percent are in mediocre condition. Seventeen percent are rated in fair condition and the remaining 33 percent are in good condition.  Driving on rough roads costs the state’s drivers $3.1 billion annually in extra vehicle operating costs, or an average of $747 per driver, including accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear.

“Until state elected officials are able to agree on long-term, sustainable transportation funding, Wisconsin will be unable to meet mounting needs on our local roads and state highways,” said Daniel J. Fedderly, executive director of the Wisconsin County Highway Association.  “The current funding system causes us to be reactive, responding from one crisis to the next.  We would much rather be working proactively on a shared sense of vision that can move our communities and state forward, and represent our citizens across Wisconsin.”

Traffic congestion in Wisconsin’s major urban areas is worsening, causing up to 41 annual hours of delay for some motorists and costing the state’s drivers a total of $1.9 billion each year in lost time and wasted fuel.

Nine percent of Wisconsin’ bridges are structurally deficient, with significant deterioration to the bridge deck, supports or other major components.

Traffic crashes in Wisconsin claimed the lives of more than 2,800 between 2012 and 2016. Wisconsin’s overall traffic fatality rate of 0.95 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel is lower than the national average of 1.18.  The fatality rate on Wisconsin’s non-interstate rural roads is nearly two and a half times that on all other roads in the state (1.43 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel vs. 0.61). The financial impact of traffic crashes costs the state’s drivers $1.8 billion annually.

The efficiency and condition of Wisconsin’s transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the health of the state’s economy.  Annually, $580 billion in goods are shipped to and from sites in Wisconsin, mostly by trucks, relying heavily on the state’s network of roads and bridges. Increasingly, companies are looking at the quality of a region’s transportation system when deciding where to relocate or expand. Regions with congested or poorly maintained roads may see businesses relocate to areas with a smoother, more efficient and more modern transportation system. The design, construction, and maintenance of transportation infrastructure in Wisconsin support more than 64,000 full-time jobs across all sectors of the state economy.

“Driving on deficient Wisconsin roads comes with a $6.8 billion price tag for the state’s motorists,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director. “Adequate funding for the state’s transportation system would allow for smoother roads, more efficient mobility, enhanced safety, and economic growth opportunities while saving Wisconsin’s drivers time and money.”

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  DOE’s Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee (BERAC) announced its next meeting dates: October 18 & 19; the 2nd day is a half-day session, in Rockville, MD.  The BERAC meets two to three times each year.  It met last in April.  The purpose of this Advisory Committee is to “provide advice on a continuing basis to the Director, Office of Science of the Department of Energy, on the many complex scientific and technical issues that arise in the development and implementation of the Biological and Environmental Research Program.”  A regular part of the Agenda is a report from the “Biological Systems Science and Climate and Environmental Sciences Division.”  BERAC’s work includes a focus on DOE’s “Grand Challenges” Report, last published in November 2017.  These grand challenges guide the fundamental research, from climate to biochemical systems, funded by DOE throughout its labs and within university programs.

*  The US Forest Service is seeking comments on preliminary work to revise the Mining Law of 1872.  The focus is on the need to clarify or otherwise enhance regulations covering environmental impacts, within the National Forest System, resulting from prospecting, exploration, development, mining, and processing operations linked to what is called “locatable” minerals, e.g., gold, silver, platinum, copper, lead, zinc, magnesium, nickel, tungsten, bentonite, barite, fluorspar, uranium, and uncommon varieties of sand, gravel, and dimension stone.  This set of regs hasn’t been updated since 1974.  Comments are due on a range of substantive issues by October 15.

*  EPA announced the final version of the updated National Priorities List (NPL), adding five sites – commonly called “Superfund sites.”  The NPL is intended to guide EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation to assess the nature and extent of public health and environmental risks.  Eventually, of course, the hope is that these Superfund sites get cleaned up, that uncontrolled releases of toxic and hazardous materials are stopped and that these properties are returned to safe and productive use.  The five sites are Broadway Street Corridor Groundwater Contamination, Anderson, IN; Rockwell International Wheel & Trim, Grenada, MS; Donnelsville Contaminated Aquifer, Donnelsville, OH; Southside Chattanooga Lead, Chattanooga, TN; and Delfasco Forge, Grand Prairie, TX. Remember Valley of the Drums?  Hard to believe that was 40 years ago, in Kentucky, Bullitt County, near Louisville… 23 acres, 100,000 waste drums corroding, deteriorating… The rest is, well, modern environmental history – from RCRA to CERCLA to LUST to NPL to Superfund…

Tom Ewing
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Road Projects Idled in Michigan Due to Union Lockout

In July, crews set bridge beams on EB I-69 over Hammerberg Road in Genesee County, Michigan. Photo: Michigan Dept. of Transportation.

By Eileen Houlihan, senior writer/editor, ARTBA

A dispute between the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association (MITA) and the Operating Engineers Local 324 has resulted in a labor lockout that has shut down, or slowed, hundreds of road projects in the state. The union’s five-year contract expired on June 1, since which time it has refused to negotiate with contractors.

“The industry is very unified and standing firm against very disruptive, egregious activities that have been going on for quite some time, all summer long in fact. The union refused to meet,” said MITA Executive Vice President Mike Nystrom.

The membership of MITA, ARTBA’s affiliated chapter in the state, includes 128 union contractors.  The association released a statement on Sept. 4, the first day of the lockout, noting MITA had “done everything within its power to maintain labor peace and stability, however, we’ve been forced into taking this action by the union. Getting these employees back to work is a top priority.”

MITA said work would continue on some construction projects across the state but may be halted on others.

The Michigan Department of Transportation, which was notified of the impact, issued a statement saying it is not a party to the negotiations. “Our priorities remain the safety of workers and the traveling public and maintaining traffic to alleviate delays as much as possible,” the MDOT statement said.

For any projects that are shuttered, the agency noted the contractor must still maintain a safe work zone.  MDOT may also grant a time extension to the contractor because of the labor dispute, but will not offer compensation for any related costs.

According to MITA’s Nystrom, a big concern for the industry is that the union’s tactics could be replicated in other states. “This could be a game plan that could spread nationally. This is affecting hundreds of jobs and thousands of employees,” Nystrom said.  He referenced the union’s attempt to negotiate separate agreements with individual contractors rather than a multi-employer collective bargaining agreement. Operating Engineers Local 324 represents 14,000 members, including heavy equipment operators on road construction projects.

The lockout will end when the union accepts and ratifies the industry proposed contract, which Nystrom said includes a 2.7 percent wage increase each year for five years.

News reports said more than 160 state and local road construction projects across the state were in partial or full shutdown due to the lockout, including major highway projects on I-696, I-75 and I-96. About 80 percent of active road contracts across the state have been awarded to companies represented by MITA.

The operating engineers’ union, meanwhile, said on its website it “decided not to negotiate with MITA” and that because there was no contract in place there “was no labor dispute.”

On Sept. 13, Gov. Rick Snyder called on the parties to meet and find a way to resolve their differences quickly “before any projects are significantly delayed.” Snyder said in a statement he was consulting with the state’s Attorney General to provide guidance on the situation.

More information can be found on the www.michiganinfrastructurelabornegotiations.com/ website.

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