Gary Wilson's thoughts on Great Lakes issues and occasionally, other things
Move afoot to rename iconic highway after Chicago's first settler; but does it deserve $3 billion from D.C. for reconstruction?
Chicago’s 16 mile Lake Shore Drive, along with Route 66, is one of the most iconic highways in the United States.
Mention either and most people, especially Midwesterners, will immediately know what you’re talking about and both have been the subject of pop songs that describe their whimsical virtues, real or imagined.
Route 66 still exists but is now a secondary road long-ago usurped by the interstate highway system. Lake Shore Drive, officially U.S. Highway 41, remains a major north - south traffic artery in addition to its scenic virtues with Lake Michigan and Chicago’s skyline on opposing sides.
But change is in the air for Lake Shore Drive or, as locals refer to it - the Drive or LSD after the psychedelic hallucinogen.
How about Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Drive?
Chicago is on the cusp of renaming the Drive after DuSable, the Black man from Saint-Dominique, now Haiti, who is considered its first permanent non-indigenous settler in the late 1700’s.
A key city council committee voted recently to rename Lake Shore Drive after DuSable and the full council is expected to approve the change. This won’t be the first public recognition of DuSable. There’s a museum in his name and a park at the point where he is thought to have located. But renaming Lake Shore Drive after him is a game-changer. It will bring national attention to his legacy.
There’s still some Chicago-style political wrangling between the mayor, who isn’t quite onboard with the change yet, and the council to be resolved before Lake Shore Drive becomes DuSable Drive. Some names die hard. But it will likely happen.
And there’s potentially more brewing for Lake Shore Drive besides the name change that reflects history and changing values for the country’s 3rd largest city.
The Drive is a major highway in Chicago’s transport system that serves to make Chicago function, you know… the city that works. Chicago exceptionalism implies that other cities don’t.
And most importantly, it literally borders Lake Michigan with its record high lake levels that with increasing frequency, lap over the Drive. Toss in climate change with increased severe weather events - torrential rains and flooding - and that begs questions about the Drive’s future. Or it should.
If starting from scratch, you wouldn’t construct a highway bordering Lake Michigan today given climate uncertainties.
Now comes President Joe Biden with a climate plan that intersects with our critical need to update infrastructure including roads. Central to it is reducing greenhouse gas emissions that come from a lot of sources, but especially cars. Or more aptly named today, SUVs and pickup trucks.
Biden, congress willing, will have a couple of trillion dollars to implement his climate and infrastructure plan. When the federal government has that kind of money to dole out, the sharks start circling.
Entities everywhere are preparing to toss their pet projects into the funding hopper and that includes the Illinois and Chicago political intelligentsia, and guess what? They’re floating a $3 billion dollar reconstruction of North Lake Shore Drive. The section that runs from downtown past the Gold Coast to the city’s northern border which leads to affluent North Shore suburbs. The portion of the Drive from downtown to the South Side would not be part of the project.
Do we need to spend $3 billion on a highway do over when we’re about to de-emphasize driving, especially on roads that could be swamped by rising waters driven by climate change? And just for the record, there’s ample public transit that serves Chicago’s North side and those spiffy suburbs. If there’s a billion dollars to throw around, invest there. It’s time to ride the train folks, not drive solo in a $50,000 small tank-size vehicle.
Surely, with all of Chicago’s infrastructure issues, there’s a better way to blow through $3 billion. Modernize schools and increase medical facilities in long-disinvested areas in Chicago’s West and South sides. Build parks and after school facilities in those neighborhoods too. That’s infrastructure by Biden’s 2021 definition.
Biden’s big plans are in the blueprint stage right. They’ll be passed in some form after they go through the Washington political sausage-making process known as legislation.
Please, Washington political intelligentsia, spare us the $3 billion concrete escape route from downtown Chicago to cushy homes near nice schools in tidy, toney suburbs.
I suspect Jean Baptiste Point DuSable would appreciate that.
Can the U.S. deliver on a mega-plan? Is replacing cars with cars with a different power source a winning climate strategy?
President Joe Biden has been busy in the last few weeks. First came his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, officially titled the American Jobs Plan. A plan unrivaled in its scope since President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930’s.
That was quickly followed by hosting a climate change summit for leaders from around the world. No small feat given that the U.S. has been absent from the world stage on climate for the previous four years. The previous White House occupant didn’t see it as a priority, or didn’t see it at all.
A few off the cuff thoughts on both.
In the abstract, there’s little to not like in Biden’s infrastructure plan. It hits the traditional hot spots like roads, bridges and airports. And it proposes getting rid of all the lead pipes that deliver water to homes, traditionally a state and local responsibility. Then it expands the definition to include stuff like taking care of caregivers and investing in high-speed broadband. Both make sense.
My concern is about classic overreach, can the U.S. government deliver on a plan of this magnitude? There will be more demand for money than can be accommodated. Every member of congress, all 535, will have pet projects of which some will be worthy, others not. How does that sort itself out? And let’s face it, the bureaucracy-laden U.S. government isn’t exactly a model of efficiency.
Republicans want to spend on infrastructure but on the traditional kind. They’ve floated an approximate $650 billion proposal which is a non-starter for the Biden administration. Let’s hope they can find a common ground that’s closer to what President Biden is proposing.
Then there’s climate change and it intersects with the president’s infrastructure plan.
The cornerstone of the Biden climate initiative seems to be electrification of the auto industry, replacing cars with cars with a different power source. Or better-said, replacing one bloated SUV and pickup truck with one that has a different power source.
Does that make sense? Not to me. It wreaks of having your cake and eating it too. Sounds like, let’s deal with the climate conundrum but without sacrificing anything from our comfy, consumption-focused lifestyles. I’m not sure nature will recognize the nuance.
All props to New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo for questioning if cars replacing cars makes sense as a way to deal with climate change. His column is here.
The wild-card in this is the Covid-19 pandemic. Not much of substance can take place until it’s extinguished and we’re not there yet. Even if some have declared victory.
The name changes of the bottled water extractor but the status quo remains, all with the blessing of Michigan's top leaders. If you have a gripe, don't blame BlueTriton
You’ve heard the saying “the more things change the more they stay the same.” Rough translation, superficial change isn’t change, it just reinforces the status quo.
And that’s the case with the bottled water business in Michigan. The sale of Nestle Waters North America - Ice Mountain and a bunch of other brands - closed recently. That means Nestle, the bete noire of bottled water activists, won’t be around to demonize. You can no longer blame the Swiss company for taking precious groundwater, paying a pittance for it and putting it in plastic bottles to sell back to us.
Game changer, right?
Nope, the same take, bottle and sell water scheme continues apace, it’s just a new entity driving the process. BlueTriton Brands now runs the water extraction biz that Nestle had in the Great Lakes state.
BlueTriton breaks its name down like this. Blue, for water and Triton is god of the sea in mythology. The new name “reflects the company’s role as a guardian of sustainable resources and a provider of fresh water," according to its press release.
The release goes on to say BlueTriton is committed to sustainability and high-quality products, the obligatory mentions.
The BlueTriton name doesn’t work for me. But it’s their business and who knows, maybe their smart branding team got it right.
Here’s what makes me anxious. BlueTriton sees itself as a “guardian of sustainable resources.” Consumer of sustainable resources? Yes. But it exists to take and sell a natural resource, not to protect it.
The guardian of Michigan’s groundwater extracted and sold for bottled water is the state of Michigan with the public’s interest in mind.
It’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and before her Govs. Rick Snyder and Jennifer Granholm. It’s Department of Environment Great Lakes & Energy’s Dir. Liesl Clark and her predecessors when the agency was the DEQ. It’s the legislature, both parties, with the power to enact new laws.
If you have a gripe with BlueTriton, save it. Direct it toward leaders in Michigan’s government. They can be bottled water game changers, but so far they’re ok with the status quo.
Comprehensive $2.3 trillion plan redefines infrastructure but fails to include an end to drinking water shut offs.
President Biden released his long-awaited infrastructure plan recently and there's seemingly something for everyone. Traditional infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and airports? Yep, they're covered. Emerging infrastructure like expanding broadband, covered. Neglected forever issues like replacing lead pipes that deliver water to homes? It made the cut.
Then there's taking care of caregivers, a worthy endeavor but not infrastructure you may say. It is now. What about bad local zoning laws. That too is an infrastructure issue according to the president.
There are so many things in the plan and so much money to flow from the federal coffers that it prompted New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo to write that it reminded him of an Oprah giveaway.
"Here’s $400 billion for home care workers, $300 billion for manufacturers, $100 billion for
workforce development — but wait, there’s more! The electric grid, water systems, broadband — you get $100 billion, and you get $100 billion, and you get $100 billion," Manjoo said.
And there's more, most of us won't have to pay for the largesse. Congress willing, Biden is sending the bill to wealthy people and corporations. It's magic, those guys finally have to pay up.
By the way, Biden's plan isn't even an infrastructure plan, it's a jobs plan... The American Jobs Plan. A little misdirection to help garner support from the people. I know, grow up, it's Washington.
What's not in it? Probably a lot but one thing jumps off the page. An end to drinking water shutoffs for people who can't afford to pay their water bills.
A plan from a well-respected, progressive president that tosses a billion dollars around like it's a nickel couldn't find $1.5 billion to end water shutoffs. That's how much Michigan Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell, both Democrats, are asking for according to Detroit News reporting. Tlaib, in the News story said the White House was listening to what she and Dingell had to say.
Listening? I'd hope so.
We're about to embark on an infrastructure program for generations to come and it won't end water shut offs? C'mon!
Biden's infrastructure, uh... jobs plan will be dissected and debated for months in Congress.The final product? Roads and bridges for sure. Biden is all in on cars, he just wants electric ones and they need roads and bridges too. Airports and broadband, in. But some of the softer items may not make the cut. Not everyone in Washington and Congress is enamored with Biden's unilateral redefining of what constitutes infrastructure.
But I'm sure people struggling to pay for drinking water will be enamored with the president if he could see fit to keep their taps on, no matter what. Besides, it's the right thing to do.
Photo: Greater Detroit, the Detroit River and Windsor, Ontario courtesy of NASA.