Expressive

Commuters are getting soaked in Florida. It ain’t raining.

Back in 2006, the American Association for State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Federal Highway Administration commissioned Future Financing Options to Meet Highway and Transit Needs. That and other studies going back to Robert Poole’s original paper for the Reason Foundation helped set up the market priced “express” lanes all over the country.

See, highway departments have tax-driven budgets.

Every politician says “I oppose solving these problems by raising taxes.”
“The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.” –Will Rogers

Here in South Florida where 36-mile Krome Avenue project is now underway at a projected cost of $284.8 million, the Department of Transportation is always looking for ways to supplement its budget. They found it by adding toll lanes to the “free” Interstates. They call those “express lanes.” Most Floridians call them dangerous abominations.

Sen. Frank Artiles (R-Miami) filed SB 250 last month to do away with express lanes on all of Florida’s highways.

Yay, Frank!

Lane DivingThe bill will allow FDOT to collect tolls to pay off the bonds for the toll construction but the tolls must be eliminated after discharge of the project’s bond. It prohibits the creation of any new high occupancy toll lanes or express lanes. And it requires FDOT to change existing lanes so they are no longer high occupancy toll lanes or express lanes upon elimination of their tolls.

Here’s the biggie: Tolls may not be charged for use of an interstate highway where tolls were not charged as of July 1, 1997.

“The problem is government spends too much. So raising taxes is what politicians do, instead of reducing spending.” –Grover Norquist

In Miami, FDOT turned two existing lanes into toll lanes which simply shrank the highway for everyone. It was another money grab.
Miami drivers are so frustrated, the new South Florida sport is “lane diving,” that is, drivers diving in and out of express lanes.

Express Lane Accident“At any moment there is a chance that somebody is going to dive into my lane not wanting to pay the fee for the express lanes from the beginning,” Mark Kaire told WFTS in Tampa this month. The Miami attorney represents 10 clients suing FDOT; all were had accidents caused by the orange lane dividers that separate the express lanes from the regular lanes.

By the way, FDOT got it wrong another way. The “closed” signs on I-95 Express have a black background with the “No Vacancy” part illuminated in yellow lights. The trouble is, Florida highway regulatory signs must be black and white to be legal so the Florida Highway Patrol can’t enforce the FDOT request to not use the lanes.

If SB 250 is successful, FDOT will lose the $27.6 million in revenue they made last year.

I hope Florida hasn’t heard of the Alameda freight corridor plans. They charge up to $30 fees “on each container that uses or could have used the corridor.” I can just imagine the glee at that idea within FDOT.

“Let’s see. Harper drives up Krome Avenue to avoid our tolls on Florida’s Turnpike or the I-95 Express Lanes,” goes that thought balloon. “But he should take the turnpike, so we’ll deduct that fee from his SunPass.”

12,192 crashes occurred in the express lanes in Miami-Dade County alone but there were only five fatalities.

The Florida Department of Transportation, of course, maintains that the lanes are safe.

“I truly believe that it’s only a money-making scheme,” Sen. Artiles told Local 10 News. Me, too, Frank. Me, too.

 

Politics and Art

Art-Less, a special “no immigrant” exhibit, starts today at The Davis Museum at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. All work that was created by or donated by immigrants will not be displayed until the President’s Day weekend. Curators have removed paintings and shrouded cases with black cloth. The initiative highlights immigrants’ impact on the world of art.

Woman SpringsImmigrants to the United States created about one-fifth of the work in the Davis Museum‘s permanent galleries. Their collection includes work by Swedish portraitist Adolf Ulrik Wertmuller who emigrated to the United States in 1794, Willem de Kooning who came here from the Netherlands in 1926, Italian sound sculptor Harry Bertoia who moved to Detroit in 1930, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy who moved to Chicago to become the director of the New Bauhaus in 1937, and more.

“We have removed or cloaked these works to demonstrate symbolically what the Davis Museum would look like without their contributions to our collections and to Wellesley College, and to thereby honor their many invaluable gifts,” the museum told CNN.

Of course, that art was created by people who entered the country legally — Walter Paepcke, the Chairman of the Container Corporation of America, invited Mr. Moholy-Nagy, for example — so Wellesley’s political statement is at best mixed.

 

Busted

I don’t get it. What is wrong with it if I talk to the Russian ambassador? I’m a private citizen now and should be able to associate with anyone I want. And if I were confirmed as an appointee, my conversations would be called “diplomacy.”

And yet, we managed to drum Gen. Michael Flynn out of a job.

Anybody smell some jealous politicians running scared again?

Turns out there is a law. The Logan Act states, in part:

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

Huh.

So no private person can try to conduct foreign policy without the permission of the gummint. Specifically, I’m forbidden to talk with a foreign government or its representative and try to influence foreign policy.

“Is true!” Liz Arden said.

It came about after the French Revolution when the new United States didn’t help France because of a treaty with England. The French were upset and began robbing American ships and jailing our sailors.

“They should have been upset because they helped us.” Ms. Arden reminds us.

We're Here to HelpOfficial envoys tried unsuccessfully to patch things up and it looked as if we’d end up at war with France. I reckon we’re lucky they didn’t gang up on us with England.

That’s when Dr. George Logan, a Quaker Republican lawmaker from Pennsylvania, set off for France. He succeeded, but when he got back to the U.S., then-President John Adams, George Washington, and the rest of the gang were furious over his interference. Congress pushed the law through to stop lone wolves like Dr. Logan from doing it again.

“Cuz jealous?”

80% of our laws are.

And here I wanted to talk with Kim Jong un!

Anyway, the Logan Act feels like a violation of the first amendment. Freedom of association is both an individual right and a collective right, guaranteed by all modern and democratic legal systems, including the Bill of Rights, article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and international law. Be interesting to test that.

“Well, freedom to associate, sure. But with the intent to influence policy?” she asked.

It’s an interesting line.

Assuming I could even get in to talk with an opponent’s ambassador, how much influence would I have? Or would Gen. Flynn, before the election? And should we prosecute Rex Tillerson? Look how many times he’s talked to Mr. Putin directly, before the election.

After the election is a different story. I’m thinking we want a new Administration — any new Administration, left or right — to get its ducks in a row.

Gen. Flynn lied and deserved to be fired but so should the politicians who put him in that position.

And, for the record, we haven’t seen Dennis Rodman prosecuted yet.

 

Dam, Sam!

Question of the Day: How complacent have California dam operators become under the ‘permanent drought’ of global warming?
found on the Interwebs

This is a story of bad reporting, bad management, and bad boondoggles.

Damage to the spillway keeps worsening at America’s tallest dam at Oroville, California. Dam operators opened the flood gates to keep the state’s second-largest reservoir from overflowing even more disastrously although they know that increasing the flow would erode a big part — perhaps the entire bottom half — of the spillway. That’s about “150 yards of concrete,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported February 10, “that will have to be painstakingly rebuilt during the dry months.” Repair costs, “state officials said, will likely top $100 million.”

Wait. What? 666 THOUSAND DOLLARS A YARD???

Oroville Dam-SpillwayLake Oroville was at 99% capacity by Friday with only 3.5 feet left to fill. The good news is that the larger spillway, made of reinforced concrete, was peeling downward and not threatening the integrity of the 770-foot-high dam itself.

Wait. What good news? 666 THOUSAND DOLLARS A YARD??? That’s even more than a Florida highway boondoggle!

“And Californians think they should run the country…” Rufus said.

That has to be stupid reporting. I reckon the hole is actually 150 yards long, not 150 cubic yards. Still, the equivalent of less than a tenth of a mile of Interstate highway repair (that’s about what we’re talking about here) ought not cost $100 million.

“What did they piss away on the 18-mile stretch?” Rufus asked.

Good question. The Florida Department of Transportation is famous here in the Keys for its decade-long, costly boondoggles.

The Stretch was a two-lane highway identified as U.S. 1. It carries 99% of the traffic between Florida City on the mainland and Key Largo and points west, all of it along the former right-of-way of the Key West leg of the Florida East Coast Railway. It was rebuilt to save lives and to facilitate the increased volume of traffic, particularly during hurricane evacuations.

It is now a two-lane highway divided by a concrete barrier that separates northbound and southbound lanes.

Construction took place in three stages which tied up the main entry to the Keys for years. The first ten miles, down at this end of the road, chewed us up from Key Largo to about mile marker 116. That cost $153,565,133. The second phase extended from mile marker 116 up to Florida City but the D.O.T. skipped a three-mile segment in the middle. No one knows why. Those five miles of paving took about three years, from 2008-2011 and cost $111,827,749. The middle three miles, from mile marker 121 to mile marker 124, was later in 2011 at a cost of $17,043,687. The “additional engineering and administrative costs” brought the total cost to $330 million for the entire project or more than $18.3 million per mile.

In the real world, a new six-lane Interstate highway costs about $7 million per mile in rural areas or $11-12 million per mile in urban areas.

Back to Oroville. That’s in California which is apparently even more expensive than Florida.

The Butte County sheriff issued evacuation orders yesterday for everyone living below the dam, some 188,000 people, because the crumbling emergency spillway could give way and unleash floodwaters onto rural communities along the Feather River.

Wait. What?

Didn’t they tell us the spillway was peeling downward and not threatening the integrity of the 770-foot-high dam itself?

The California Department of Water Resources said on Twitter at about 4:30 p.m. PST that the spillway next to the dam was “predicted to fail within the next hour.”

Wait. What?

Didn’t they tell us the spillway was peeling downward and not threatening the integrity of the 770-foot-high dam itself?

The damaged spillway remained standing several hours later; it’s still there.

There’s no word when evacuation order will be lifted.

“I figure the 188,000 people in Oroville, Yuba County, Butte County, Marysville and nearby communities probably voted for Trump,” Rufus said.

The water level has now dropped. The dam itself is fine.