WisDOT contentions die in fiery crash with truth

WisDOT wants us to believe that if only I-94 had more lanes there would be fewer crashes, and fewer people would be maimed or killed.

One of the main reasons for rebuilding I-94, WisDOT says in the I-94 reconstruction / expansion Draft Environmental Impact Statement, is to “address the obsolete design of the I‐94 East‐West Corridor to improve safety and decrease crashes.”

That crash you hear is WisDOT’s spin job slamming into the hard wall of facts presented by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. The group got a set of crash data and did its own analysis of crashes from 2005-2009, the same time frame examined by WisDOT. Here’s a few of the findings.

  • There were five fatalities that occurred on the stretch between 2005 and 2009. All of these happened outside of peak hour congestion periods, usually late at night or early in the morning.
  • Of 42 incapacitating injuries that occurred – only 11 took place at peak hour.
  • Of a total of 1,373 crashes that resulted in injury, or possible injury in the selected time period, speeding was a factor in over forty percent.  
  • Alcohol was a factor in 35% of all crashes that resulted in incapacitating injury or death.
  • Of a total of 4,745 crashes, 71% were rear-end and sideswipe crashes. Only sixteen of 2,659 rear end crashes resulted in incapacitating injury (6%) – and speed was a factor in fifty percent of those. Half of these crashes occurred outside peak hour, even though the corridor has far lesser traffic volume during that time.
WisDOT’s own Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which 1000 Friends notes was ignored in the DEIS, contends that “Nationally, speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, failing to yield, and running red lights contribute to approximately 93 percent of traffic crashes. In 57 percent of these crashes, driver behavior is the sole reason for the crash.”
The accidents were not caused by congestion and not by design flaws. They were caused by bad driving. And on I-94, the vast majority of most serious crashes occurred when the freeway wasn’t crowded.
Not exactly a persuasive arguments for spending a billion dollars to add lanes.

WisDOT and those public records

I’ve asked WisDOT for the same records now three times — the first time on Dec. 3, more than 1 1/2 months ago — and still haven’t gotten them. And now the public comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is closed and WisDOT’s intransigence prevented me from doing the analysis I wanted to do to prepare my comments.

Score one for WisDOT. I’m a little surprised that it was so willing to be so blatant about its Open Records breaches, but certainly blocking the information is one way to exercise control over what comments get made.

Here’s what happened:

On. Dec. 3, I wrote to  WisDOT:  ”Could you please send me a breakdown of crash rates along each individual ‘urban freeway’ that is included in the comparison crash rate numbers used on page 1-9? I would like figures for each of the years cited in the eis – 2005 through 2009.”

I wanted the records because the Draft Environmental Impact Statement said the crash rates along the stretch of I-94 WisDOT is proposing to elevate and expand is much higher than the statewide average for large urban freeways.

From 2005 to 2009, the average statewide large urban freeway crash rate was 85 crashes per 100 million VMT. This rate does not include deer‐related crashes. Table 1‐2 and Exhibit 1‐4 summarize the crash rates for I‐94, US 41, and Miller Park Way in the study area compared to the statewide average for similar roadways. Crash rates in the I‐94 East‐West Corridor are mostly at least 2 to 3 times higher than the statewide average, and several sections are more than 4 times higher than the statewide average. The following are the only two sections of the study area with crash rates below the statewide average:
 Westbound I‐94 between the 28th Street entrance and 35th Street exit
 Southbound US 41 between the Wells Street/Wisconsin Avenue exit ramp and Wells Street/Wisconsin Avenue entrance ramp

So I wanted to verify the numbers — after all, why on earth would I take on faith anything WisDOT says? I wanted, too, to see what highways WisDOT considered “large urban freeways.” Are they really comparable to I-94 in Milwaukee or are they “urban” and comparable to I-94 in the same way a corner closed-on-Sundays-and-holidays deli is “retail” and comparable to a Wal-Mart Super Center?

WisDOT sent me some stuff about statewide crash rates, but did not send what I asked for. It did not identify the individual freeways in the comparison group, nor did it provide their crash rates. So on Dec. 16 I asked again.

I’m still waiting for the information I asked for on Dec. 3 re. traffic accidents data on each urban highway. I appreciate that you are busy, but it’s impossible to tell how valid the safety numbers are in the I-94 eis without knowing exactly the i-94 counts are being compared to.

WisDOT officials said they had already responded. (WisDOT is learning at the knee of the master. Releasing information that doesn’t say much is an old trick of Gov. Scott Walker.)

So I filed another request on Jan. 7.

I do not believe the requested crash data was provided, so I am asking for it for a third time. The original request was for “crash rates along each individual ‘urban freeway’ that is included in the comparison crash rate numbers used on page 1-9.” I did not receive the rates for each individual urban freeway.

And here it is 21 days later, and still I wait. The comment period is closed. WisDOT did not provide requested information. SLAM. That sound you hear is the door being slammed on public access to public information.

I did file (incomplete) comments on the DEIS. In them, I asked that the public comment period be re-opened in light of WisDOT’s misdeeds. Any bets that will actually happen?

Double-decker would cost $1.2 million per year MORE to maintain

This financial, transportation and environmental disaster called the double-deck freeway would just keep on taking. First, it would cost $1.2 billion to build, then it would cost $1.2 million MORE PER YEAR to maintain than a no-double-deck alternative plan that would be cheaper to build.

Is Gov. Walker paying attention?

From the Draft Environmental Impact Statement:
The Double Deck alternative would pose unique maintenance challenges and would cost approximately $1.2 million per year more to maintain than the At‐grade alternative. This includes cost of lighting the lower level roadway in the double deck section. Over time, there would be about 30 percent more pavement to maintain under the Double Deck alternative and about 25 percent more pavement under the At‐grade alternative compared to the No‐build or Replace‐in‐Kind alternative. Snow removal costs would be higher for the Modernization Alternatives than for the No‐build alternative.