Connector newsletter - July 2017

Connector newsletter


bridgeBridging differing interests
through collaboration
St. Croix Crossing dedication scheduled for August 2   

Joe Starr, Wisconsin DOT — Published July 31

The St. Croix Crossing Bridge will open this week with a dedication ceremony scheduled for Aug. 2 on the bridge's Minnesota side.

This bridge, spanning the St. Croix River between Oak Park Heights, Minn. and St. Joseph, Wis., symbolizes years of compromise and collaboration among 28 stakeholder groups that took part in its development.

The new bridge will provide a more efficient link between the Twin Cities and northwestern Wisconsin, replacing the nearby Stillwater Lift Bridge.

At this project’s core is a partnership between the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation with many people within each of these organizations and beyond working together to deliver the finished product, said Wisconsin DOT’s St. Croix Crossing Project Manager Tim Mason, who added that the opening of this new transportation flow point is an exciting and vital addition to the state’s growing northwest region.

“It’s going to provide a significant benefit to those who live and work in the area. There is a lot of commuter traffic in that northwest part of Wisconsin. This structure will meet the needs of that transportation system.” Currently commuters coming from in and around the Wisconsin communities of Somerset and New Richmond often avoid the cumbersome Stillwater Lift Bridge by traveling south to the I-94 bridge at Hudson.

Discussion of replacing the 86-year-old lift bridge goes back to the early 1970s. Traffic congestion along the two-lane span is a common occurrence and is further pronounced by traffic stoppages caused when the bridge lifts to allow boat traffic to pass. Another element contributing to traffic backups is the lift bridge’s direct proximity to the city of Stillwater, Minn., forcing traffic exiting the bridge to file slowly through the city’s historic pedestrian-heavy downtown.     

Building bridges takes time

Plans for a new bridge seemed to grab traction in the mid-1990s to the point where real estate for the project was purchased, but legal opposition shut it down.

It was a few more years before serious discussion of a new bridge resurfaced, and it would take more than a decade before the elegant interstate connector would become part of the river valley’s picturesque landscape.    

In the early 2000s, the Federal Highway Administration enlisted the U.S. Institute of Environmental Conflict Resolution to mitigate legislative issues surrounding development of the new bridge. During that process they identified 28 stakeholders, which included environmental groups, cities and townships on both sides of the river, the St. Croix River Association, the Stillwater Lift Bridge Association and the Minnesota and Wisconsin DOTs.

The groups came together, meeting monthly for four years in the early 2000s to present a variety of options that could satisfy regional transportation needs while protecting the St. Croix. The biggest hurdle, said Mason, was coordinating the 28 groups in a way where their varying interests could be heard, considered and implemented in the final plan. Disturbing the river’s scenic views and the potential environmental impact that a bridge of this size proposed were primary among stakeholder concerns.  

Blending with the landscape

“They didn’t want the bridge to stand out and be a focal point,” said Mason. “They didn’t want a tall structure that would be above the tree line on the Wisconsin bluff, which is much like a cable-stayed structure would be, and they didn’t want a lot of piers in the water either, which is what would happen with a typical boxed-girder bridge design.”

A compromise between these butting concerns brought the group to agree on an extradosed bridge design, which is a hybrid between the more traditional pre-stressed concrete box girder and a cable-stayed bridge designs. Mason says the extradosed design allows for shorter pylons that lower the structure’s height while also allowing it to span father, which would reduce the number of piers in the waterway. Subdued lighting, low-profile slotted piers, and landscaping along the bridge approaches topped off with a fresh coat of tan paint all came together into the final design to further blend the structure in with its surrounding landscape.

Keeping it clean

Rain and snow melt running off the bridge and into the river was another concern addressed by the stakeholder groups as this runoff is often filled with road salt and other contaminants. Project designers answered with a water diversion system that captures precipitation landing on the bridge surface and funneling it down to the lower Minnesota side where it enters a series of retention ponds that naturally filter the water. This was a concern with the current two-lane lift bridge which lacks any such water diversions system, but was especially concerning for the new structure with its four traffic lanes and one bicycle-pedestrian path spanning twice the length of the old bridge at nearly one mile.   

“The more water we can collect and treat before it goes into the river the better off for the river’s ecosystem,” said Mason, adding that a separate drainage system along the bluffs on the Wisconsin side was constructed to keep precipitation landing on the Wisconsin road surface approach from flowing onto the bridge.

The bridge's connections at either side was another stakeholder point of discussion. Where would the approaches lay as to not disturb the bluffs?  Two ravines on either side were selected as entry points for the bridge, reducing the need to cut into the bluffs. It also set abutment touch points back farther, further diminishing the structure’s visual impact while decreasing the bridge grade as it extends down toward the Minnesota side. 

Protecting the land and wildlife

Protecting the land, and the endangered and protected species that live there were of utmost concern throughout the project. Special measures were taken to ensure that everything from bald eagles nesting nearby to the many Higgins eye pearly mussels living in the river were protected from harm during the bridge’s construction.

Special care was taken to use a less invasive approach to construction along the bluffs on the Wisconsin side, minimizing disturbance to trees, plant life and the overall landscape. Only the trees that had to be were removed. Work done along the bluffs was either by hand or with small machines, in lieu of large construction equipment that would have been difficult to operate along the steep grade and could have potentially damaged the bluffs. 

Another part of keeping the river valley’s ecosystem intact included ensuring invasive species like zebra mussels found in the nearby Mississippi River were kept out. Barges brought in to help with the construction went through a decontamination process to ensure they were free of non-native species.  

Historical properties on either side of the river were also protected during the process. Among them were Wisconsin’s Kriesel and Thelen farmsteads, which had berms built to protect the view of these properties from the roadway. The historic Shoddy Mill and Warehouse on the Minnesota side was relocated to north along WIS 95 in Stillwater. The Stillwater Lift Bridge is also among the historical landmarks and will be persevered as part of the St. Croix Crossing's Wisconsin Loop Trail, a bicycle-pedestrian path scheduled for completion by summer 2019.

Return to top



Drivers advised to use caution, stay focused on the road during Aug. 21 solar eclipse

Ali Shana, Wisconsin DOT — Published July 27

What’s anticipated to be a breathtaking sight well up in the heavens has the potential to create some issues with traffic down here on Earth.

eclipseAbout midday on Aug. 21, scientists expect that a total solar eclipse – the first in the U.S. since 1979 – will briefly block daylight along an arc stretching from Oregon to the Carolinas.

Although Wisconsin is not predicted to be within the eclipse’s darkest path, vantage points throughout the state are expected to obscure 75 to 85 percent of the sun at the peak of the passing moon.

James Lattis, director of UW Space Place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, likened Wisconsin’s partial eclipse to an early twilight.

“The sky would still be blue. You would just notice it’s getting darker, like an overcast … not dark as night,” he said, adding, “Headlights are still a good idea.”

Drivers should plan ahead

“It’s quite possible that you could be out on the road that day and think, ‘wow, what an amazing sky,’” said David Pabst, director of Wisconsin DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Safety. “This is where we want drivers to stay focused and avoid having an ‘eclipse in judgment.’”

In addition to reminding drivers about headlight use, Pabst offered the following tips:

  • Never take photos while driving.
  • Never stop along the interstate or park on a highway shoulder. Always find a safe place to park before viewing an eclipse.
  • While it’s advisable to wear “eclipse glasses” to view the eclipse, it is not advisable to wear them while driving.
  • Watch out for pedestrians and remember some might wander a bit too close to the road.

The table at right has time and coverage predictions for Wisconsin’s partial eclipse, courtesy of UW Space Place. In a partial eclipse, the moon will obscure the bottom portion of the sun. There will not be a period of absolute darkness, as beams of sunlight in the form of a crescent will appear above the moon’s edge.

Headed south to view?

Due to its rareness and significance, state DOTs within the path of the total eclipse are expecting an influx of traffic. Anyone planning to head south for a good viewing area should plan ahead.

Remember that areas with the least amount of light pollution—ideal for viewing the eclipse—will often be on roads less traveled. This can often translate into spotty cell phone service and long stretches with no gas stations, so always plot routes before hitting the road.

Check 511 Wisconsin and traffic monitoring programs like Waze to aid in travel planning, looking ahead to roadwork, incidents or weather conditions that might slow the journey. Do not use a mobile app while driving. Plan ahead or hand your phone to a navigator.

Leave early to ensure a comfortable viewing spot with time to spare, but if you do get hung up:

  • Be wary of the need for headlights, especially during duration of the eclipse itself.   
  • Resist any temptation to take pictures from behind the wheel.
  • Find a safe place to park. Drivers should avoid parking on highway shoulders, as it creates potential for crashes. 

“Safe driving is everyone’s job. No matter where you may be headed that day; please take time to reduce distractions and exercise caution,” said Pabst.

Return to top



DMV online services featured in American Express advertisements

Terry Walsh, Wisconsin DOT — Published July 27

For the first time, American Express will include information on Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles’ 30-plus online services in its customers’ month-end billing statement and web advertisements. The message “Save time for what you really enjoy. Skip the trip and complete your DMV tasks online, anytime” with a link to DMV’s online services will be featured throughout August.

“We were pleasantly surprised when American Express approached us,” said Cody Castillo, DMV financial program supervisor. “But it’s a natural connection. Many people don’t know that they can complete their annual license plate renewals and other routine tasks online and skip the trip to the DMV entirely.”

Wisconsin’s DMV offers more than 30 services online, including renewing vehicle registration, titling a vehicle, purchasing crash reports, finding the nearest DMV and checking wait times. In 2016, nearly 5 million Wisconsinites renewed their license plates but only about a quarter renewed online.

Return to top

   


Organ donation gives meaning to tragic loss of beloved wife, mother, daughter
More than 5,000 lives saved through Wisconsin Donor Registry organ transplants         

Joe Starr, Wisconsin DOT — Published July 18

run The Reichardts and Dawsons came together at last year's Capital City Organ, Tissue and Eye Donation 5K Run Walk in Madison, Wis. From left are Linda's son-in-law and daughter Sam and Emma, Randy and his and Shelly's daughters Morgan and Kenzi on either side of Linda, and Linda's son Sam and his partner Madeline.

Linda Dawson was visiting her mother in the hospital when she received the phone call – a match had been made and she was told to check herself into the hospital right away to prepare for her lung transplant. 

"I thought, okay, here we go," said Dawson going on to describe the nine hours between that phone call and when she would eventually be wheeled down the hall to surgery at 2 a.m. waving her hands in the air to the ABBA song "Dancing Queen."

Through Wisconsin Department of Health Services' partnership with Wisconsin DOT's Division of Motor Vehicles on the Wisconsin Donor Registry, more than 5,000 lives have been saved in Wisconsin through organ donations and thousands more improved through eye and tissue donations.

More than 56 percent of Wisconsin driver license and ID card holders as of July 2017 have agreed to be included on the registry as registered organ, tissue and eye donors. While this is an impressive number, Wisconsin DHS Organ & Tissue Donation Program Director Martha Mallon says that more donors are still needed.  

Joining the Wisconsin Donor Registry saves lives

According to Donor Life America's most recent data, Wisconsin's donor designation share ranks 15th while a number of states have rates greater than 75 percent. On average, Mallon says 20 people die each day in the U.S. while waiting for a transplant.

"About 2,100 Wisconsin residents are currently awaiting transplants and every ten minutes another person is added to the national transplant wait list." 

Run

In Wisconsin's Outagamie County the percentage of people agreeing to be donors is higher than the state average at 62 percent.

Contributing to that number was Shelly Reichardt from Appleton -- a woman Dawson would never meet but would get to know and love through meetings, charity fund raiser runs and other activities she and her family shared with Shelly's family.

Dawson was a 59-year-old mother, grandmother and a practicing attorney/litigator in Madison, Wis., when she started noticing changes in her stamina.

"About 2,100 Wisconsin residents are currently awaiting transplants and every ten minutes another person is added to the national transplant wait list."

-- Wisconsin DHS Organ & Tissue Donation Program Director Martha Mallon

“I used to run – not competitively – but I used to run in fun runs occasionally or run for exercise, and it became increasingly difficult for me so I stopped doing it.” Around this time she switched jobs from one that involved plenty of walking and stair climbing to a more sedentary position, so she attributed being regularly exhausted to inactivity of her new position.

“I thought the difficulty I was having with breathing was because I was pathetically out of shape.” Her decline was gradual, making it easy to blame on lack of exercise or getting older. Dawson said she would mention it occasionally to her doctor and he would agree that she needed to exercise more. With no markers or indication that there was anything wrong, she said there was no reason for her physician to make the leap to anything serious happening. But it was one day while touring the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus with her daughter that was her wake-up call.

“I went on this campus tour and the thing that struck me was the other people on the tour looked like they should be having more difficulty.” She noticed others in the group moving easily up and down stairs and along the flat campus landscape, comparing them to her labored state.

“I was having such a hard time that I had to quit because I couldn’t keep up and I couldn’t catch up so I told my daughter to finish the tour and I would meet her at the union." That was her indicator that it may be something more than a fitness issue.

Doctor visit reveals shocking diagnosis

Dawson went to her doctor and was given a series of tests, after which she met with a pulmonologist.

“He said ‘do you know why you’re here?’ and I said, ‘yes, I was having shortness of breath when I was walking upstairs or walking up inclines or walking quickly so I was thinking that I might have developed asthma but I wasn’t exactly sure.’” The pulmonologist told her it wasn’t asthma, but moderate to severe emphysema and recommended that she be on supplemental oxygen.

“It was a total shock to go from viewing myself as a healthy but maybe out-of-shape person to a person with a chronic and potentially fatal disease.”

Dawson was told that there was no cure and the only real cure was a lung transplant, but she didn’t qualify at that point. She was glad to hear that because she didn’t think she qualified for a lung transplant either when she came to see the doctor that day.

Aside from smoking cigarettes for few years in her late teens and early twenties, Dawson had not touched tobacco for years and wasn’t exposed to second-hand smoke or any chemicals that may have contributed to the disease, making her diagnosis that much more bizarre. 

“You see people with oxygen all the time and you assume that they were a lifelong smoker. I quit smoking because I knew it wasn’t healthy, and I eat well and wasn’t overweight and I did exercise and I did all the things I was supposed to do.”

Dawson started a medication regime with inhalers to help her lungs function better and a pulmonary rehabilitation programs to help her learn how to breathe and function better. She was told that people with her condition could live and be active for a very long time without having it progress to a more serious stage.

The disease progressed slowly during the next two years, eventually to the point where she needed supplemental oxygen more often. This was around the time that her work had her traveling the country doing trainings. She said she could do all of travel, standing in front of groups and talking, and it didn’t interfere with her life too much during the first couple years following the diagnosis, but then it happened – her first exacerbation. 

Worsening symptoms

Exacerbation is defined as a worsening, or increase in severity of a disease or its signs or symptoms. Dawson’s first exacerbation happened during a trip with her husband to Chicago. After dinner with friends on Friday night, she said she was having trouble breathing. She figured it was due to an upper respiratory infection, which she felt would be easily treated with the oxygen and medications she had brought with her on the trip. On Saturday morning she was having trouble breathing so she decided to take all her medicine right away in hopes of opening her air passages. While taking her rescue inhaler and going into the bathroom to get other medications she experienced a feeling as if all the air was sucked out of the room.

“If you think about measuring the amount of breath that you take, it was like only getting a half inch of air in and a half inch of air out. I was like a guppy.”

Her husband called 911 and administered the remaining medications, which she could not do due to being nearly paralyzed from her inability to breathe. 

“I remembering thinking that I was drowning and that I am going to die because I can’t get any air in and I can’t get any air out.”

An ambulance took her to a nearby hospital where they were able to stabilize her breathing with medication. She was admitted to the intensive care unit for a few days before being transported to a Madison hospital where her condition was further stabilized and released.

This, Dawson said, was a tough time for her family, but especially for her youngest daughter Emma, who at the time was a 20-year-old college student in Spain doing a semester abroad.

“It was hard for her having me be sick and in the hospital, and she’s not there, plus I was planning to visit her in Spain and now I couldn’t do that anymore.” Like most kids that age, Dawson said she wanted a mom who wasn’t sick.

But her family stepped up and helped out wherever they could. Her husband took on more household responsibilities especially since their multi-floor layout made it seem like an alpine adventure every time Dawson had to climb the stairs around the house. When her husband had to leave town, one of her kids would come home to stay with mom, since she could not be left alone in case something happened.   
Dawson’s physical condition continued to decline as subsequent exacerbations continued to place increased stress on her already failing respiratory system.

“From that point on I was having exacerbations every three months or so and I would get out of the hospital and start tapering on the drugs and steroids they had given me to help me function and then I would get a cold or allergies in the spring or some other irritant and I’d be back in the hospital again.”
Dawson recalled sitting in the hospital at one point thinking, is this how it’s going to be?

“I just need to know. Am I going to get sicker and sicker and have a harder time breathing and die or is there a real possibility that I can turn this around somehow.”

Time to talk transplant

There was no question at this point that a lung transplant was needed and while it was exciting knowing there was new hope it didn't erase concern of its potential risks.

“It’s a scary thing when you first start hearing about transplants," said Dawson. "The first thing you hear about are the success rates or survival rates and statistics that go along with transplants and that, especially for lung transplants, isn’t always that great.” But her doctors were confident that she was a good candidate for the surgery. 

“By that time my family began to realize that A) I am a very regimented person and I’m going to do what they tell me to do and B) I had no other illnesses – other than my lungs I was a very healthy person. It was a really a big thing in my favor – I had no other comorbidity issues.”

As calm as she has ever been

On Aug. 10, 2014, Dawson was at the hospital visiting her mother who was recovering from leg injuries she suffered in a car crash when she received the phone call that they had a match for her transplant. The person on the other side of the line knew that she was already at the hospital and told her to walk over to admissions and check in to prepare for surgery.

“I said, ‘no,’ remembering that I had to go home and get my stuff. So I went home. It was sort of like getting ready to have a baby – you have to have your bag packed because once you’re on the list you have to be ready to go. My son came and took us to the hospital and I got in and they started prepping me for the surgery.”

From 5 p.m. when Dawson was admitted and about 2 a.m. when she was taken for surgery, plenty had occurred. She was examined to make sure she was still a good candidate for the transplant. The medical team at the hospital in Appleton where the lungs were coming from had to examine the lungs to make sure they were healthy. Then when the lungs arrived at the hospital in Madison they were again examined by the transplant team there. At any time during this process, if anything didn’t pass, Dawson said that the surgery could be called off, making it a trying time for her family, friends as well as her medical team. But Dawson, unlike everyone else, was calm.

“At that point I have to say I was as calm as I had ever been in my life. I felt like this was the right thing for me, I knew I was ready for it and I was strong enough to survive it. And I had complete confidence in my surgical team, that they had found good lungs for me and they would do a good job of putting them in me.”

Dawson was so confident that she planned to go dancing once she was recovered. She explained that she isn’t a good dancer but she enjoyed dancing. She appropriately had the song "Dancing Queen" by ABBA playing while being wheeled down the hall to the surgery room. 

“I am sitting there with oxygen kind of bopping back and forth to this song and then they said okay it’s time for you to go.”  They gave her an anesthetic as the song ended. As her son cued the song again and the iconic glissando piano introduction rang followed by the singers' melodic harmony, she waved her arms in the air hearing the nurse’s voice sneak in between notes, "3-2-1 and she’s out."

Take a breath

A day and a half later, Dawson woke up with an incredible feeling she had not felt in quite a few years—the ability to breathe easy.

“It was like, ‘holy crap this is what it’s like to be able to breathe,’” she said. Going from struggling with every breath to have it just be so easy all of the sudden that you don’t have to think about it, she said was a miracle. But along with the joy she was experiencing came a sadness. She knew her second chance at life was possible because someone else had lost theirs.

“It’s so hard to put one family’s profound loss next to another family’s profound gain and have those two things coexist in the same space, but that is what an organ transplant is,” said Dawson. “It’s a gift to the recipient beyond words.”

Giving throughout a lifetime, and beyond 

For Shelly Reichardt, donating her lungs to Dawson was a final act of kindness by a woman whose entire life revolved around serving, helping and being there for others.

Reichardts The Reichardt family from left: Randy, Morgan, Kenzi and Shelly.

August 10, 2014, was a day when two women who would never meet would form a bond that helped their families, friends and others they touched move on through life with hope. Reichardt passed away on Aug. 10 after suffering a traumatic brain injury from a tragic accident. Her husband Randy Reichardt described her as a selfless person who always placed others before herself, which was evident in her choice to be an organ donor.

“It’s just what she does,” said an emotional Randy Reichardt in describing how Shelly gave and cared for others up to include the day she died. The 52-year-old occupational therapist lived in Appleton with her husband Randy and their daughters Morgan and Kenzi.

“It was always everybody else – she always cares about everybody else,” said Reichardt, his voice cracking as he summoned the strength to talk with great pride and affection about his late wife. “She always wanted to make sure everybody else is good; make sure everybody else is happy.”

One example he recalled of Shelly’s inability to think of herself was when he told her to go out and buy some clothes for herself.

“She would say, ‘okay, okay,’ and she would come back with nothing for herself and everything for the kids.”

That selflessness extended into her work as an occupational therapist where she traveled to patient’s homes to help them.

Randy and Shelly were married for nearly 18 years when she died, and everything she did during those years revolved around her kids.

“We did everything as a family,” said Reichardt. “Shelly and I rarely took a vacation by ourselves.” He recalled fondly camping trips and joked that while Shelly was all for getting out into the wild that she insisted that it to be in a motor home rather than the traditional tent style that Randy Reichardt was used to growing up.

Then there were the tropical family vacations to Mexico, Jamaica and Grand Cayman Islands, which Randy said Shelly loved.

Shelly was very fit and had an active lifestyle as a runner, which was evident from the running races she participated in, including two half marathons. Reichardt said she even convinced him to join her in the 2013 Fox Cities Half Marathon.

Being a donor

After Shelly passed away, the Reichardts had some very difficult decisions to make. They wanted to donate her heart but her heart was too weak after the trauma inflicted on her body, said Reichardt.

“They asked about the eyes and my girls just couldn’t allow [that] … ’those are mom’s eyes,’” Reichardt said fighting to choke back tears, “It was very difficult.”  The Reichardts agreed that the lungs, liver and kidneys would be donated. It was difficult to talk about, he said, but there was no question in his mind that this was just Shelly’s way of helping other people.

When the Reichardts went to the Wisconsin DMV to get their driver licenses after moving back to Wisconsin from Minnesota, they said yes to having that orange dot appear on their cards indicating that they were organ donors. Randy said it was not a question for Shelly.

"She worked in the medical field and knew how important it was." The entire Reichardt family, including extended family, have said yes to being organ donors. 

Coming together

The Reichardts reached out to the see if Shelly's donor recipients were willing to meet with them to which Dawson eagerly accepted. About one year after the Shelly’s passing, the Reichardts and Dawsons met at Dawson’s home in Madison.   

Randy Reichardt described the meeting as difficult but rewarding, after seeing that Dawson was healthy and knowing that it was all due to Shelly.

“At that time Linda was just starting to do better,” said Reichardt. “It was good to see her. She told us her story and it was just so awesome to see she benefitted from Shel because literally I don’t know how much time Linda had left.”

Dawson remembered the meeting with deep appreciation, recalling that their children were about the same age and shared things in commons.

“We hugged and cried and laughed and thanked them,” said Dawson. “They all were very…everybody was very…it was just a moving experience for everyone.”

One especially moving moment Dawson recalls was when she met Shelly’s mother.

“When her mom came into our house and met me, she gave me a really big hug and said, ‘I just want to feel you breathe.’ It’s so hard because as a mother and a daughter I can only imagine. They really were happy. They feel good about the fact that even though they don’t have their mom, their mom gave this wonderful gift. And they were able to participate in that. They really are wonderful.”

Today Morgan and Kenzi are both in college and Reichardt says that he sees Shelly’s heart in both of them.  

“They love helping people,” he says. “They’re very empathetic. Shel was that way, as well. She was always kind, always thoughtful and I see that in the girls. Hopefully they can grow up to be just like their mom. That’s what I would wish.”

Become an organ, tissue, eye donor

Return to top

   


DMV investigative unit goes extra mile to combat odometer tampering

Terry Walsh, Wisconsin DOT — Published July 13

Zachary Bice needed a car to get to his first job out of school.

He found his ideal used car with 130,000 miles listed. But after the sale and back at home, he checked Carfax and found a serious discrepancy. The car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) showed it was sold to a dealer with 190,000 miles. It looked to Bice that there was a rollback of 60,000 miles, leading him to suspect odometer tampering.

Bice After realizing the odometer on the car he just bought had been tampered with, Bice reached out for help from the Wisconsin DMV's Dealer and Agent Section’s Field Investigation Unit.

Odometer tampering is a consumer fraud that comes at a great cost to Wisconsin citizens. The act of odometer tampering involves disconnecting or altering a vehicle’s odometer to conceal the true mileage, which is illegal. Nationally, there are approximately 452,000 odometer fraud cases per year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Those hit hardest are often younger people like 24-year-old Bice who often lack the financial resources to afford costly repairs that commonly come with a high-mileage vehicle. And once he knew the vehicle’s odometer was rolled back, he could not by law sell it.

“I was afraid I was stuck with it,” he said.

Filled with questions, Bice went online to find answers from the Wisconsin DMV's webpage dedicated to odometer tampering. Here he found tips on how to spot fraud, but more importantly in his case, he learned how to file a complaint.

Finding support with DMV

Bice’s first phone call reached Wisconsin DOT's Joel Ingebrigtson, one of DMV 's 12 Dealer and Agent Section investigators.

“It is rare that I receive an odometer rollback-related complaint regarding a licensed Wisconsin dealer; I may get one once or twice a quarter at maximum,” said Ingebrigtson, adding that most are from private sales.

Ingebrigtson Ingebrigtson holds an instrument cluster, which among other vehicle gauges includes the odometer. His Dealer and Agent Section’s Field Investigation Unit closed 308 complaints in the second quarter of 2017.

The Dealer and Agent Section’s Field Investigation Unit closed 308 complaints in the second quarter of 2017 and conducted 241 periodic inspections of dealer facilities and operations. As a result of these inspections and complaint mediations, DMV occasionally administers enforcement actions, which are published in Plain Dealing, the section's quarterly newsletter, and in Wisconsin DOT’s online newsroom.

The scope of duties under the Dealer and Agent Section includes education, enforcement and mediation. On-site inspections help the investigators ensure dealerships understand the rules and regulations. Complaint mediation assists consumers with issues such as warranty repairs, disclosure of preexisting mechanical issues and timely title receipts. 

“The dealer investigators maintain a level of rapport with the dealers,” Ingebrigtson said. “We aim to keep licensed dealers in business doing business right, and work to resolve conflicts as they arise. I think a routine inspection is seen as a check-up and an opportunity to educate, by both the dealer and the investigator.”

But there are limitations on what the investigators can do, such as sales with a private seller or complaints filed a long time after the vehicle purchase. Before a customer can file a complaint against a dealer, it’s important to take effective first steps and understand the process for a successful resolution.

Wisconsin DOT's DMV Dealer and Agent Section Chief Michael Domke recommends contacting the dealership first to try to resolve the problem. 

“A majority of dealerships in Wisconsin operate with integrity and are serious about complying with Wisconsin’s regulations,” says Domke. “If something goes wrong, more often than not the dealership is willing to fix the problem and make it right. Therefore, we encourage customers to give dealers a chance to fix the problem before filing a complaint.”

Unwinding source behind spun odometer

In Bice’s case, Ingebrigtson’s first task was to verify the discrepancy shown in a vehicle history report. He obtained records from the auction where the dealer acquired the vehicle. This established verifiable evidence that the vehicle had higher mileage. DMV Milwaukee-based investigator Nick Denk then obtained records from the dealer documenting its ownership of the vehicle. In the end, the paper trail was strong enough that it forced the dealer to admit they replaced the instrument cluster causing the odometer to register an incorrect reading. The admission led to a swift resolution as the dealer took back the car and Bice got his money back.

This is not a matter Bice would have been able to resolve, even with help from his mother who is a lawyer,” said Sonya Bice, Zachary’s mother.

“He may have been legally right but it took someone who could solve the problem. I was impressed with their professionalism and just amazed at the outcome. I’m glad to know there are people like you in the state of Wisconsin.” 

Because of Bice’s case, the Wisconsin DMV was able to identify other customers who needed DMV support and have since opened investigations on their behalves. Complaints like Bice's have resulted in nearly $680,000 being recovered since the beginning of 2017.

Return to top

   


Couple sends thank you note to safety patrol driver who fixed their flat tire

Martha Morganstein, Wisconsin DOT — Published July 5

On the ride home from their annual fishing trip to Minnesota, Kay and George Ryan were driving near Madison, Wis., when they felt a sudden burst under their seats, and they immediately knew the cause.

Vaughn Bremer
Vaughn Bremer has worked as a Freeway Service Team driver for the past six years and is very accustomed to dealing with a variety of vehicle malfunctions.

They pulled to the side of the road and just as they suspected, the left-rear tire of their boat trailer had ruptured.

“All I could think was ‘oh darn,’” Kay Ryan said. “We were stuck on the left shoulder with all of these cars speeding by us.”

As the couple was trying to assess the situation, a service truck came in front of their car and the driver, Vaughn Bremer, offered his assistance. Bremer has worked as a Freeway Service Team driver for the past six years and is very accustomed to dealing with a variety of vehicle malfunctions.

“We were just so glad to see those flashing lights,” Kay Ryan said. “The truck came so quickly; it was as if he had been following us the entire time.”

These service trucks, newly named the Wisconsin DOT State Farm Safety Patrol, serve major work zones and high-volume roadways throughout the state. This team of trained professionals is prepared to provide motorists with free, basic roadside assistance. Its services include providing small amounts of fuel, changing flat tires and jump-starting vehicles.

Having worked in the transportation industry himself, George Ryan always stocks his car with the essential “break down gear” including a spare tire and some tools.

Kay Ryan described Bremer’s surprise to the extent of their tool collection.

“Most people aren’t as prepared as we were,” she said. “So his truck had everything we could have needed.”

Kay estimated the entire process took only about 15 minutes. Bremer worked diligently to replace the tire as the Ryans waited in the car.

Bremer explained that he tries to ensure every interaction with a customer is handled efficiently in order to maximize safety and minimize traffic delays.

“I work almost instinctively,” said Bremer, adding that his number one priority beyond safety is clearing the scene so that there is less backup for everyone else on the road.

Safety is always first in these situations, and knowing what to do if you are part of or passing by a vehicle breakdown on a highway and especially in work zones is important.

The Ryans were so appreciative of Bremer’s service that they sent him a note to express their gratitude.

“It’s my job to help people out and get them on their way as fast as I can, so I don’t expect anything from them,” Bremer said. “But it’s nice to get a note so that I know that I’m doing my job right.”

Return to top



Subscribe to newsletter emails