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Archive for the ‘transportation’ Category

Dayton says No to smaller St. Croix Bridge.

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Previously, TRC has discussed the proposed bridge project that is going to replace the lift bridge in Stillwater, MN. The plan as it stands is to build a “freeway style bridge” from medium-small Stillwater to little Houlton, WI across the St. Croix River. This very large bridge will be able to accommodate future growth in the area, it is argued, as well as make for easier crossing between states during rush hours. There was an alternative plan floated by a group of environmental and conservation organizations, which was also supported by citizens who thought that such a large bridge would not be necessary.

But Governor Dayton has said that the small bridge proposal will not be considered, and the larger bridge will move forward, assuming congress provides the cash. The bridge project is bringing together strange bedfellows in politics, with the support of Sens. Franken and Klobuchar, Rep. Bachmann, Gov. Dayton, and a host of others. It is too bad that what can finally bring such a group together is the repeal of environmental law.

For the “freeway style bridge” to be constructed along the St. Croix, the river must be given an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which as Federal Law should be able to do that which the US Government intended it to do: protect wild and scenic rivers. The Rivers Act protects this stretch of the St. Croix from development that will harm the special character of the river, and bringing in a 4-5 lane bridge that runs bluff to bluff rather than above the water will certainly harm the special character of the river.

The reason that TRC finds this case so important is not that we are tied to only small projects forever, or that development is all inherently negative. Rather, exemptions from environmental laws set dangerous precedents. And bringing a monstrous bridge project that requires the end-around of a 40 year old river protection law is bad planning.

Written by Christopher ZF

August 17, 2011 at 10:01

56 mpg? Impossible!

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The debt ceiling is a big fiasco. But other things are going on in the world of US Government. One issue is the proposed increased in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards being pushed by the Obama Administration. The current standard is 34.2 mpg which became the rule in 2009. The new CAFE standard sought by the President would be  in the mid-50s mpg by the year 2025. (I’ve seen a few different numbers for the actual standard, but it ranges right around 54-56).  Since climate change is going to be cause serious harm in the next century, tackling the sources of GHG emissions must happen now. And cars are among our most serious GHG problems.

Naturally, this is causing disdain among many anti-regulation conservatives and consternation among all of the nations auto companies–whose general reaction to any change regarding cars is consternation. It is also being praised by environmental groups and tech-based innovation folks. This is no surprise and is certainly not news. It’s also worth noting that the United Auto Workers support the increase.

Today, I had to read the editorial from Reason.com (Free Minds and Free Markets) written by Shikha Dalmia, titled: The Coming Autopocalypse.* In the piece, Dalmia essentially claims that the auto industry CAN NOT meet these demands, and trying will result in many deaths, lost jobs, wasted money, government bailouts, etc. That might be the case if we continue to seek mpg increases by decreasing auto size (the standard method is to reduce vehicle size and weight).

But Dalmia, in explaining how 56mpg could never be a reality, makes this claim: “The 56-mpg-mandate will require a total, top-to-bottom overhaul of cars. Every part of a vehicle from its transmission to its engine would have to be replaced.”

When I read that, I wanted to say to Dalmia: Yes, this is true. Everything about cars IS going to have to change. Exactly. Spot-on. This is what we need to do if we are going to continue to rely on the single-occupancy vehicle. And we are going to continue our love affair with cars. So what are we going to do? Well, the author seems to know where we should start.

Earlier in the article, Dalmia writes: “Not a single car—big or small, hybrid or non-hybrid—currently delivers this kind of mileage (with the exception of electrics).” Again, exactly. What to Dalmia is just a parenthetical is likely the near-term answer**.

I’m not sure what the best way to go to about re-hauling the American vehicle is, be it CAFE standards, or some other regulatory mechanism, or just letting the auto companies deal with the issue, but it seemed worth addressing the fact that, what Dalmia finds to be the problem-everything must change-might actually be the solution.

*Can we please ban the use of “pocalypse” or “mageddon” as an addition to anything someone might not like? You may not like debt, or increased fuel efficiency, or snow, but it will likely not result in something equivalent to, you know, the apocalypse.

**To which one might say: But where can I charge an electric vehicle in this country? Well, by the end of 2011, you can go to one of the 800 Walgreens that will have EV charging stations. That is a remarkable commitment. I might just have to break something so I can get a prescription filled by my local Walgreens.

Written by Christopher ZF

July 28, 2011 at 15:21

Scenic Rivers are protected. Keep it that way.

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As a nation, we have laws that are important and popular. One of those laws is the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, signed by President Johnson in 1968. When that legislation passed, 8 rivers were connected, making them the first protected by the new law in the nation. One was the (upper)St. Croix River. The (lower) St. Croix was added in 1972.

For a few years, there has been a back-and-forth battle over a proposal to build a new bridge over the St. Croix to replace the 80-year-old lift bridge in Stillwater. One of the arguments concerns the fact that according to the National Park Service, the planned four-lane bridge, a mega-sized mega-expensive project, violates the environmental standards of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which states that rivers “and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

Regardless of the questionable environmental and legal status of the project, MN’s Washington County Board and WI’s St. Croix County Board of Supervisors have voted to approve an exemption from the current environmental laws surrounding protected rivers.  Last year, innocuously, Rep. Michele Bachmann penned legislation to get this bridge funded by the state and federal governments. It drew no co-sponsors, and got no action.

But this is not last year. Rep. Bachmann has again brought forth legislation to fund the bridge with a mixture of federal and state money, which is co-sponsored by two Representatives from Wisconsin. It has been called an earmark project, since, frankly, there is not much money in the coffers for gov’t funded bridge projects.

But this is not the point. The building of this bridge can only go forward if the project is given an exemption from the environmental standards as detailed by the current federal law which protects this river, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  This bridge is a bad idea. Not only is it bad for the St. Croix River, it sets a dangerous precedent for rivers across the nation. Protected waters are more important than ever, in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and everywhere else in the world. Wild and Scenic are descriptors that are getting lost daily in this nation, and protecting those we have already chosen to protect is not something that we should begin sacrificing. In response to Michelle Bachmann’s bill, Representative Betty McCollum said she would do everything in her power to defeat this exemption, and I am proud to be represented by her.

We know the importance of safe bridges in Minnesota, and we all want to see our people safe. This is not a question of safe bridge construction. Rather, it is a question of safe, environmentally sound construction on a project that does not simply choose to override the “special character” that was immediately recognized  and protected by the federal gov’t when the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was established. Exempting the St. Croix presents a very serious challenge to all our nation’s protected rivers. Too few wild and scenic places remain in this nation for us to start exempting that which has already been protected.

I believe in this. Strongly. If you agree, let Rep. McCollum know that we support her, and let Rep. Bachmann know that we want our waters protected, and once they are protected, we want to keep them that way.

Written by Christopher ZF

March 2, 2011 at 00:17

Dear MN GOP: Don’t De-Rail the State

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Relative to: “GOP victories could derail Minnesota’s transit plans,” by Katie Humphrey and David Peterson.

We in Minnesota can’t control what happens beyond our borders. If Wisconsin’s new management doesn’t want to build high-speed rail connecting the Twin Cities and Chicago, little can be done. One can’t get to Chicago without crossing through Wisconsin.

But, please, GOP of Minnesota, don’t undo the good, hard work that has been done in Minnesota to provide multi-modal, inter/intra-city transit over the past decade. These economic times are hard, and our infrastructure, our roads and bridges, suffer. But there are several ways to solve these problems. New rail and improved bus lines are a solution. Investment in public transit provides a long term solution, not just a patchwork that will need to be patched again, that can provide economic growth areas and jobs.

Thinking long term about transit isn’t sexy; it probably won’t win you many votes or raise your favorables within suburban or rural districts, at least those off the proposed lines. But long term transit solutions are necessary. Minnesota is a great place to live, and people want to come here. All it’s really missing is a viable public transit system.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 16, 2010 at 09:48

Low-Speed Infrastructure

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Relative to: Joan Lowy, Lahood to GOP Governors: No Trains, No Money.

The United States has infrastructure problems. Everyone knows this; our roads are crumbling and bridges collapsing.  Do we want to update our infrastructure, relying always on the same old roads and highways, or might we want to update our infrastructure, as well, providing transportation options other than car? I can understand that some folks don’t care about having a high-speed rail system in the US: it’s not going to go everywhere and where it is, not everyone is going to use it. But a new infrastructure to assist a crumbling infrastructure doesn’t seem like a terrible idea.

In fact, it might be just what the nation ordered. Greener, cleaner, safer, faster inter-city and inter-state transportation, the building of which could provide jobs and economic growth opportunities. That, at least, is one interpretation of what high-speed rail could bring.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 10, 2010 at 13:31

Posted in transportation