It’s not often you see a city sidewalk running alongside an active farm field flush with corn or soybeans.
Later this year, that will be the scene near Bob Naatz’s old farmhouse on Ruger Avenue.
Janesville, Rock County and the state Department of Transportation are collaborating on a project to widen Ruger Avenue between Wright Road and Highway 14, add bike lanes and space for on-street parking, and install sidewalks and curb-and-gutter improvements.
It’s the sidewalk and curb-and-gutter improvements that have Naatz and his wife, Lynda Naatz Richter, preparing for an expense that could approach six figures.
Residents along the 1-mile stretch of Ruger in question must pay for those installations. Most live in single-family homes with relatively short road frontages; the Naatz family, meanwhile, will have to pay for a quarter-mile stretch of sidewalk that runs alongside a farm field.
The city and county are splitting a payment of roughly $13,000 to ease the family’s financial burden, including that of Sue Dahl, Naatz’s sister who lives down the road and co-owns the farmland property with Bob and a third sibling, Fred.
But the $13,000 won’t cover the total cost of installation. The exact total is unknown and won’t be finalized until a contractor is selected. Bids open March 12, city Engineering Director Mike Payne said.
Residents could expect costs similar to a 2017 project on Austin Road that included some of the same elements as Ruger Avenue. For that project, property owners paid $39 per linear foot of sidewalk and $19 per linear foot of curb and gutter, Payne said.
Construction costs have risen since then, but because the Ruger Avenue project is twice as long as the one on Austin Road, it might mitigate some overhead expenses, he said.
Under the rates used on the Austin Road project, it would cost at least $76,000 to do the work on the quarter-mile of land Naatz has along Ruger Avenue.
Naatz said he looked at rates for several other sidewalk and curb-and-gutter projects and calculated a rough estimate of $100,000.
The farm might still be active, but it’s less than 20 acres. Naatz hires local farmer Kirk Leach to plant and harvest each year. They split the profits, which amount to only about $800 annually for Naatz, he said.
Naatz and his wife own rental properties that provide income, but that money was meant for their approaching retirement, not for putting a sidewalk and curb in front of their property.
“We’ll be able to come up with the money somehow, but it will be like all the money that we’re supposed to be getting that we could be using for improving the houses, improving our own lives, putting our kids through college—is gone,” he said. “That’s the hard part of it. It’s money out of the bank that we were kind of counting on.”
The century-old farm, which once totaled 400 acres and served as dairy, pig, chicken and produce operations before steadily dwindling, can’t be developed because it lies in the floodplain of nearby Blackhawk Creek. That significantly reduces the land’s value, Naatz said.
Rock County Public Works Director Duane Jorgenson said a few people shared concerns about sidewalk costs at a public forum last year. A design team tried to make adjustments based on the feedback, but many in attendance were looking forward to the pockmarked road getting an upgrade, he said.
Naatz agreed that resurfacing the road is needed. He doesn’t mind the sidewalk in front of his home, either, but maintaining a long stretch of sidewalk along his field is an unwanted responsibility.
He is meeting with City Manager Mark Freitag next week to discuss payment plan options. The city usually offers a five-year repayment schedule.
If the land could be developed, maybe Naatz would consider selling. But the flood risk makes it more complicated.
“For us (the land is) not an investment. It’s our old farm,” he said. “And we’re holding onto it because it’s our family’s farm and we can’t sell it. We’re making the best of what we’ve got.”
All five of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last five years, according to global temperature data released Wednesday by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
While 2018 was slightly cooler than the three prior years, Earth still had its fourth-warmest year since scientists began keeping records in 1880, the federal agencies said. Their separate analyses add to decades of evidence that the burning of fossil fuels, the clearing of forests and other human activities are releasing heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and causing the planet to warm.
“If you smooth out these year-to-year variations and look at the big picture, the overall trend in the past few decades is one of accelerating change,” said Alex Hall, who directs the Center for Climate Science at UCLA and was not involved in either government analysis. “We are seeing more and more warming that is happening at a faster and faster rate.”
Last year’s average global surface temperature was 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, according to NOAA.
The warmest year was 2016, followed by 2017, 2015, 2018 and 2014, according to NASA’s rankings.
All five of those years were exceptionally warm, with only slight differences that were driven by natural variations in the weather, including the alternating cool and warm cycles from El Niño and La Niña.
“You get ups and downs—years that are a little bit warmer, a little bit cooler—but the long-term underlying trend is very, very clear,” said NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt, who worked on the space agency’s analysis. “It’s the long-term trends that are having impacts on ice, on severity of droughts, on heat waves, on sea level rise and wildfires.”
The combination of rising greenhouse gases and a mild El Niño underway in the Pacific Ocean means it’s likely that 2019 will be hotter than 2018. Scientists say there’s a very good chance this year will wind up ranking among the top five hottest on record, barring an abrupt planet-cooling event such as a giant volcanic eruption.
NOAA and NASA each analyze temperature measurements from thousands of sites around the world, including weather stations on land and ships and buoys spread across the world’s oceans.
The two agencies use much of the same data but perform independent analyses with minor differences in methods that yield slightly different rankings. NASA, for instance, ranked 2015 as the third-warmest year on record while NOAA found it was 2017. But in the long-term, the two agencies strongly agree on the pace and trajectory of global warming.
Temperatures in 2018 were higher than average across much of the globe, including most of the lower 48 United States, and the Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the global average, federal scientists said. Those higher temperatures continue to drive the decline in sea ice in the Arctic. The average annual sea ice extent was 4 million square miles in 2018, the second smallest extent in records going back to 1979, NOAA reported.
Those observations are at odds with President Donald Trump’s statements attacking the scientific consensus on climate change. Icy cold weather across the Midwest and Eastern U.S. last week prompted Trump to tweet a plea to global warming: “Please come back fast, we need you!”
Scientists say such remarks confuse short-term natural variations—that is, weather—with long-term shifts in the climate that are driven by human activity. Indeed, that natural variation is why climate scientists look primarily at temperature trends over long timescales and don’t give too much significance to a single hot or cold year.
“But these are warm years that have persisted over a five-year period, and they sit on top of a longstanding, increasing trend over the last one-and-a-half centuries,” said Waleed Abdalati, director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado who was not involved in the federal reports. “That’s a clear upward signal. It drives home the point that this trend is robust.”
Global warming is also increasingly evident in local measurements, where daily records for high temperatures are toppling more than twice as often as daily records for low temperatures, said Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
“If there was no warming of average temperatures, there would be about an even chance of a daily record high maximum or daily record low minimum occurring,” said Meehl, who was not involved in the report.
The NASA and NOAA reports are consistent with analyses by other governments, including the Japan Meteorological Agency and the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, both of which also concluded that 2018 was the fourth-warmest year on record.
An independent analysis released last month by Berkeley Earth calculated that in 2018, 85 percent of the Earth’s surface was significantly warmer than the planet’s average temperature from 1951 to 1980. Meanwhile, only 2.4 percent of the surface was significantly colder than that baseline period.
Last year, 29 countries—including much of Europe and the Middle East—and the continent of Antarctica had their hottest years on record, said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist with the nonprofit research organization.
Yet Trump has dismissed the threat of climate change, including a landmark assessment by 13 federal agencies last fall that found climate change is inflicting increasing damage to the nation’s environment, health and economy.
“I don’t believe it,” Trump said at the time without offering any evidence to counter the conclusions of hundreds of the nation’s leading climate scientists.
The November report warned that climate change will intensify over the century without swift emissions cuts. Instead, his administration is working to unravel Obama-era environmental rules in favor of policies that would allow more greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks and coal-fired power plants.
The 2018 global temperature reports were originally scheduled for release in mid-January, but they were delayed because the 35-day partial government shutdown prevented government scientists from finalizing their calculations.
Trump has vowed to pull out of the 2015 Paris agreement forged by nearly 200 countries, including the U.S. The pact sets a goal of keeping global warming “well below” 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial levels, a threshold intended to avert the most devastating and irreversible effects of climate change.
Despite international efforts, planet-warming emissions are trending upward.
After a three-year plateau, global carbon emissions increased 1.6 percent between 2016 and 2017, then jumped an additional 2.7 percent in 2018, according to estimates published last month by scientists at Stanford University and other research institutions. One reason, they said, is a persistent appetite for oil—including unexpected growth in the United States and Europe, where experts thought its use had already peaked.
GOP legislative leaders threw their support behind tolling Wednesday, saying they saw it as the best way to infuse Wisconsin’s highway system with cash.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau described placing tolls around the state as a way to fix highways and bridges.
“You can do it on bridges. You can do it in an awful lot of places. So I think there’s a lot more flexibility (on where tolls can be placed), and that’s why we wanted this study,” Vos said.
They said a tolling study would help guide lawmakers on the issue but emphasized they see it as the best way to pay for roads. But they fell short of committing to implementing tolling in the state budget they will eventually pass this year.
They made their comments to reporters after they and their Democratic counterparts addressed the Wisconsin Counties Association.
At that forum, Fitzgerald said raising the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon—from 32.9 cents to 42.9 cents—wouldn’t raise enough to fix the state’s roads. An increase of that size would funnel more than $330 million a year into transportation.
“We still have five $1 billion projects in southeastern Wisconsin and then obviously a lot of needs outstate,” Fitzgerald said afterward. “If you’re thinking kind of overall what does the statewide (system) need, that’s when I think you look at some of those smaller numbers (generated by raising the gas tax or registration fees) and you say that could be part of it, but it’s not going to solve Wisconsin’s transportation issue.”
Fitzgerald said he believed Congress could change federal laws and clear the way for states to more easily implement tolling.
In comments to reporters, Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson questioned the wisdom of waiting for Congress to act because it has not addressed the issue for years.
“We’ve got immediate problems that we need to move on,” Thompson said.
Republican lawmakers were divided on how to fund transportation in the last legislative session, leading to a three-month delay in approving the state budget in 2017. They said that wouldn’t happen again.
“I can promise you one thing,” Vos said at the forum with county officials. “The Assembly Republicans and the Senate Republicans are not going to fight about transportation. We are going to find a way to work together.”
Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse, in jest, stage-whispered to Fitzgerald, “Is this news to you?” He laughed and said Vos was right about Republicans working together.
Federal law tightly limits tolling on roads that receive federal funding.
At the moment, Wisconsin could try to get permission from the federal government for one of three pilot projects on tolling for federally funded roads, Thompson said. That would provide limited revenue.
But Vos noted the state could put tolls on state-funded roads and bridges without federal permission. He said he wants to find out more about how such a system would work.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh said he wants more money for roads but considers tolling the worst way to do it.
He questioned the Republicans’ sincerity, saying it would take years to implement tolls and that much of the money would go toward operating the tolls instead of building roads.
“That’s not a solution,” Hintz said. “We need money today, and it’s going to have to be something like a gas tax or some additional immediate revenue to stop the hole that we’ve dug to pay for the things that we need to do.”
“Sen. Fitzgerald and Rep. Vos have been talking about tolling for six years. It seems to be one of those things they throw out there to act like they’re doing something, but they never actually do something.”
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has emphasized the need to fix the state’s roads and said he is open to any ideas, including tolling, that will generate more money for them.
Thompson is working with a task force to come up with ideas by the end of the month. Evers will give his state budget to the Republican-dominated Legislature soon afterward.
Vos was skeptical of Evers’ task force, saying it was “cute” that it was trying to move so fast on a complex issue.
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