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A better idea for road funding PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Tuesday, 31 December 2013 15:39

Wisconsin has a financial mountain to climb to pay for maintaining and building roads; an alternative to raising the hated gas tax is needed

It’s deja vu all over again for Mark Gottlieb, the Port Washington resident and former mayor who is the state’s transportation secretary. In January 2013, the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, with Gottlieb as chairman, was tasked with finding ways to raise the billions of dollars needed to maintain and build roads in Wisconsin. A year later, Gottlieb has been ordered by the governor to, that’s right, find ways to raise the billions of dollars needed to maintain and build roads in Wisconsin.

    The commission did a pretty good job, producing revenue-generating recommendations – chiefly increasing the gas tax and charging a mileage fee – that would cover the current highway fund deficit and pay for future road work. But nothing came of its efforts.

    The gas tax is essentially all that’s needed to pay for highways. It can be set at whatever level is needed to cover highway costs. It is somewhat fair in that it charges highway costs to highway users, though owners of hybrid or electric vehicles that use little or no gasoline or diesel fuel get a break. (Some would argue it’s a deserved break.) But the gas tax has two problems that will probably prove fatal to any attempt to increase it in Wisconsin.

    The first is that it’s a tax. Taxes are politically incorrect these days. A whole political class is devoted to driving a stake into the heart of anything called a tax.

    The second problem is that there seems to be nothing Americans detest more than high gasoline prices. Increasing the gas tax would increase the price of gasoline, thus infuriate gasoline buyers. It’s sometimes said as a joke that Americans seem to think they have a constitutional right to cheap gas, but the idea is not so far-fetched. If gas prices in the U.S. were set anywhere near what Europeans pay for their heavily taxed fuel, rebellion in the streets, not to mention in polling places, would be assured.

    Many states, as well as the federal government, are facing the highway revenue problem. There is a lot of discussion about highway tolls and fees based on miles driven. Some proposals for the latter suggest monitoring miles driven by GPS tracking. Label that one the creepy Big Brother alternative.

    Michael E. Webber, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Texas, has a better idea. He proposes charging a “ton mile” fee based on the weight of the vehicle and the number of miles driven. It would result in all vehicle owners paying their fair share of the cost of repairing road damage, he claims.

    The amount paid for each vehicle would be determined by an annual odometer reading (perhaps during emissions inspections or reported by owners) and using manufacturer’s specifications to determine the vehicle weight.

    In an essay published in the New York Times, Webber argues that the ton mile method would be fairer than the gas tax, would ensure that owners of electric vehicles paid their share of road costs and would encourage buying smaller vehicles and driving fewer miles, resulting in less damage to roads and reduced air pollution.

    For surefire appeal, the professor posits that the ton mile charge could eliminate gas taxes. Vehicle owners would still be required to pay for highways, of course, but at least it wouldn’t be by means of a hated tax, a concept even the tea party might love. Label this one the feel-good alternative.

    Gottlieb should look into it. A gas tax big enough to get Wisconsin out of its highway funding hole is not going fly. If he doesn’t come up with something that will, he will likely be facing more deja vu down the road in a year or so.

Corwin “Bud” Miser PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Tuesday, 24 December 2013 15:09

Corwin “Bud” Miser  died Thursday, Dec. 19, at Harbor Cove in Port Washington. He was 90.

    A funeral service with military honors for Mr. Miser was held Monday, Dec. 23, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Port Washington. The Rev. John Klieve officiated.

    Burial was in Union Cemetery, Port Washington.

    Memorials to Bethesda Lutheran Home or St. John’s Lutheran Church are suggested.

    Funeral arrangements were handled through Eernisse Funeral Home, Port Washington.

Risky crossing needs quick fix PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Tuesday, 24 December 2013 13:28

A dreadful collision at the dangerous intersection of Highways W and V got officials’ attention; now they have to act fast to prevent others

Our vote for the most dangerous intersection in Ozaukee County goes to the crossing of Highways V and W just southwest of the I-43-Highway 32 interchange in the Town of Grafton.

    Collisions are commonplace here. In November, a two-car crash left five people seriously injured, one of them critically. There could easily have been multiple fatalities.

    One of the drivers was clearly at fault and was cited for “causing great bodily harm” by failing to yield the right of way, but the intersection is so intrinsically hazardous that it invites collisions, not all of which are the result of careless or unskilled driving.

    The intersection design might work in an urban setting with slow speeds and narrower streets, but it is manifestly unsuited to be a highway intersection, because:

    • Highway V (an extension of state Highway 32) is a wide four-lane highway. Vehicles crossing V on W often have to do it in stages, waiting in the space between the east and westbound lanes. The space sometimes cannot accommodate the vehicles waiting to cross, leaving some exposed in traffic lanes and pressuring those in the space to cross when it might not be prudent.

    • Vehicles often turn into the intersection simultaneously from lanes going in both directions, further complicating safe passage through the crossing.

    • The speed limit is 55 mph, making it difficult to judge the closing distance of vehicles speeding by the intersection and increasing the odds that collisions will have serious consequences.

    • Traffic is heavy at the intersection and getting more so as Highway W is widely used as a convenient shortcut to reach the Aurora medical complex, the Costco store and the rest of the sprawling Grafton commercial complex on the west side of I-43.

    The November crash that left so many injured, including two teenagers, got the attention of the Ozaukee County’s Traffic Safety Committee and the Grafton continue to increase, along with the severity and number of injuries at the intersection.”

    The county is already on the case. Highway Commissioner Bob Dreblow is seeking a proposal from a consulting engineer for an evaluation of the intersection, and the county will likely ask the Department of Transportation for special hazard elimination funding.

    That’s all good, but fast action should be emphasized. Elaborate long-term solutions such as a roundabout aren’t relevant now. The priority for highway engineers has to be a quick fix, though it doesn’t take an engineering degree to figure out that part of it should be to lower the speed limit.

    Until changes are made, drivers will have to treat the V-W intersection as what it is—the proverbial accident waiting to happen.

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