Did Madison Keep its Promise to the Neighborhood?
In 2004 the City of Madison, under the leadership of then-Mayor David J. Cieslewicz, produced a neighborhood planning document called “A Vision for the Allied Community.” In this document Mayor Dave, as he is still affectionately known, made this statement:
“Verona Road: Eight to 10 years from now, the State of Wisconsin will begin a major reconstruction of the Verona Road interchange. The City will work with the State to minimize the reconstruction’s negative impacts on the Allied neighborhood and to use the project as an opportunity to enhance local roads in and out of the Allied community. Some potential routes that could provide additional access to the community include Red Arrow Trail, Thurston Lane and Summit Avenue.”
Read the full Allied Vision here.
These Can’t Be The “Minimized Impacts” That Mayor Dave Had in Mind
As we reported in an earlier post, the Verona Road/Hwy 18-151 interchange reconstruction project on Madison’s southwest side is adversely impacting the Allied Drive-Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood, and beyond because storm water runoff flows into the Arboretum’s Greene Prairie where storm water impacts are destroying that precious natural resource. Then, the storm water flows on to the Nine Springs Creek.
The highway reconstruction project staging area is in the Lake Wingra Watershed at the SE corner of the West Beltline Highway and Verona Road. The site is in the Allied Drive/Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood and is just a stone’s throw (literally) from private homes. Stormwater runoff from the project site flows slightly SE into the Arboretum’s Greene Prairie and onto Nine Springs Creek.
Construction Practices Documented
Madison photographer David H. Thompson documented the conditions of the staging area with photos on the afternoon of November 21, 2013 and again with photos on December 2, 2013. His photos show the proximity to the homes of heavy equipment and piles of soil, concrete, asphalt and blowing silica dust from crushed concrete.
Environmental and Public Health Impacts
Operations at the construction site include environmental impacts of site soil washed into the storm drains; and public health impacts of windblown soil and silica dust from the concrete and asphalt recycling operations not to mention continuous noise from trucks and earth-moving equipment. Together these impacts amount to environmental and social injustice to the neighborhood.
As the photo above documents, there is an absence of required erosion prevention measures which commonly can include some combination of silt fence, straw bales, or “silt socks”. Some curb-side storm drain inlets are protected to prevent soil from entering them; others are not. Soil and mud are tracked into the street where the next rain (or snow melt) will wash soil into the unprotected storm drains. The required “tracking pads”, designed to scrape soil from vehicle tires before they leave the site are not regularly cleaned and maintained and have become useless.
Public Health Impacts
The photo below shows wind-blown concrete dust, a public health hazard. Exposure to concrete dust can damage human health three ways: eye contact, skin contact, and through inhalation.
Concrete dust in the eye can burn the cornea. A skin rash can result from exposure to concrete dust. Breathing of silica dust, found in crushed concrete can cause a variety of respiratory diseases.
One respiratory disease caused by exposure to silica dust is silicosis. Because of these known impacts, concrete dust poses a public health threat not only to residents of the area but also to the thousands of motorists who travel the Beltline daily. There are three types of silicosis and you can read about them here.
On December 2, 2013, the day this photo was shot there were no apparent precautions being taken to limit public exposure–not any of the precautions often used in similar situations elsewhere were in evidence. The contractors could have taken common sense measures like wetting down the concrete, or erecting a wind curtain, or even ceasing crushing operations when the wind blows towards either the residential area or the busy Beltline Highway to limit public exposure to this hazardous material.
What Other Hazardous Materials Were Released?
Beyond the concrete dust what other hazardous materials were released into the environment by this project? We don’t know but construction rubble from projects like this could contain asbestos and/or lead.
Environmental and Social Injustice
Highway reconstruction projects like the one at Verona Road land a triple-whammy on an already poor and disadvantaged neighborhood like the Allied Drive/Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood. The poor and minority residents of neighborhoods like Allied Drive/Dunn’s March thus bear a disproportionate share of the impacts and receive few of the benefits.
The first blow is that these neighborhoods bear the brunt of the disruption and direct impacts; secondly, residents of neighborhoods like Allied Drive endure the burden of the environmental and public health impacts; and thirdly, on top of all that, because their car ownership is relatively low, residents of these under-privileged neighborhoods receive few of the benefits of shiny, new, high-speed highways. They don’t even have a grocery store within walking distance. Read more about environmental justice issues here.
No More Excuses, Please!
David Thompson’s photos illustrate a range of environmental and public health offenses that if not illegal, at least ignore common sense precautions, and are ultimately environmentally immoral. Click here to see David’s photos. The documented site conditions suggests a certain level of neglect and carelessness, possibly facilitated by weak supervision, and a lack of code enforcement. I do not known if the site conditions here are considered “business as usual” for highway construction projects or whether they are the result of an aberration of this particular project. Either way the site has to be fixed. City and State officials have to step up and take responsibility and not just accepting “my dog ate my homework” type excuses.
Recent Allied Drive Housing Initiatives
The Allied Drive neighborhood is always on the radar of Madison’s political leaders and sometimes seems to even make it onto the to-do list as an action item. In 2007 Paul Soglin, Madison’s past and present mayor, wrote about the needs of the Allied Drive neighborhood for jobs and economic stability on his Waxing America in an entry titled: “Madison’s Allied Drive Needs Far More Than Improved Housing and Social Services.”
Admittedly, Madison has initiated some programs to provide high quality apartments and single-family homes (click here to see a 2010 description of one such program for home ownership) and click here to see an update on the latest Allied Drive home ownership program from November of 2013. These initiatives are welcome and wonderful but they don’t do any good for the Madison citizens who still live along Britta Parkway and environs.
And yes, Mayor Cieslewicz had good intentions and Mayor Soglin was right, but without environmental and social justice the Allied Drive/Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood will just stay a political campaign talking point.