From: Jeff Falk
Fountain City, Wis.
One thing that seems to get left out of every discussion about the “new” bridge across the Mississippi is the potential for making already poor air quality even worse. The foot of the bridge on Fourth Street is certainly a “hot spot” for vehicular-generated pollution. Neither the Mn/DOT, the state or city health departments, or the MPCA have made any effort to determine how bad it currently is, nor projected what might occur under various designs. Diesel exhaust contains many of the criteria air pollutants listed by the EPA. Concentration of pollutants is increased when trucks go slow and/or accelerate or decelerate. This corner has a near “perfect storm” of conditions for exhaust accumulation: many trucks in a small area slowing, stopping, and accelerating. Leaving Winona, there is even acceleration while going uphill. This area could certainly be called a “hot spot.”
I don’t have access to any air quality monitor, but I do know how to count. On July 3, I put on a respirator and sat in a beach chair at the foot of the bridge and counted. I counted hourly from 6 a.m. to noon, except for 15 minutes when I went to seek a rest room. I was questioned by a Winona police officer, who said he was responding to a call reporting a man wearing a respirator was sitting at the corner. He wanted to know if everything was all right. There were few comments from drivers. The most notable was a woman shouting something including “...get a job!” I took that as a compliment that I looked much younger than I am and was mistaken for some handsome young scoundrel rather than a retired senior.
I began counting three categories of diesel trucks, sand trucks, grain trucks, and transport trucks, both coming and going. After 9 a.m., I also tried to count cars. There were times they were going by in such numbers I had a hard time keeping up. Some observations: sand trucks start from Winona around 6. By around 8 the same truck could come, unload, and leave within an hour. They tend to come in multiples. This might be due to accumulating at stoplights or coming from different locations. It appeared to me that as it got later, the sand trucks coming into Winona were moving faster than previously. (No real evidence, however.) Most truck drivers were courteous. Knowing they needed a wide area to make a turn, they allowed cars to move until the area was clear for them to turn. After about an hour, a friend who had joined me, but without a respirator, felt he was feeling the effects of the fumes and needed to leave. The respirator gets quite uncomfortable after a while and the bridge of my nose was sore for a few days.
In summary, for six hours, I had 529 diesel trucks and for three hours, I had 1,768 cars. That represents on average a diesel truck coming or going every 40 seconds and a car every six seconds. I have read that a diesel truck yields pollutants on average equal to about 22 cars. So for this six hours, traffic was equal to more than 13,000 vehicles; on average, a vehicle every 1.5 seconds.
But this is just a concern about the air we breathe. Is it important? Might there be a design that would mitigate potential harm? Who cares?