Gerry Schmitt

Gerry Schmitt of KL Engineering, the firm chosen to design the Hwy. M road improvements, answers questions during the Jan. 16 Waunakee Rotary meeting.

With the preliminary design for the Hwy. M improvement project nearly completed, engineers expect the year-long construction project will likely begin in the fall of 2023.

Gerry Schmitt of KL Engineering, the firm hired to complete the design, provided an update on the project at the Jan. 16 Waunakee Rotary meeting.

Schmitt and his team began working on the design in September 2018 with a traffic and intersection analysis before hosting three public meeting meetings to arrive at the preliminary design.

Initially, the project was to span from Hwy. 113 to Hwy. Q, but the project limit has been scaled back to Hwy. 113 to Oncken Road.

The issues with the road have involved congestion, safety, planned development at the Community of Bishops Bay, infrastructure, stormwater management and the fluctuating speed limits along the roadway, which range from 35 to 55 mph at different sections.

“The driver expectation is, give me a route that I can drive consistently on and show me something that I don’t have to be aware of the speed limit at all times,” Schmitt said.

Along the way, engineers have had to consider the environmental resources and accommodating the multimodal bicycle path planned by Waunakee, Westport and Dane County.

“How do we implement that within our alternatives? That was a major part of our study,” Schmitt said.

Other projects and studies, such as the North Mendota Parkway, involve Hwy. M.

“And how do we take the results of that and translate that to what we need to do, but still focus on the fact that M has needs now, and the North Mendota Parkway is a long-term study, a more regional study, and this was more focused on M itself?” Schmitt added.

Schmitt provided daily traffic counts for the road from 2018 and compared them to what they will be in 2045 once Hwy. M is improved, along with the projections with no improvements.

The 2018 counts were 18,000 vehicles per day between Hwy. K and Hwy. 113. With the improvements in 2045, they are expected to rise to 27,000, as compared to 22,000 with no improvement.

In addition to public meetings, stakeholder meetings included neighborhoods along the route and government officials.

The engineers considered both two- and four-lane alternatives for the road.

“It’s not just a rural roadway; it’s not a full-blown expressway like Hwy. 12. It’s not a freeway like the beltline. It’s more a combination of a rural and an urban section,” he said.

The team looked at two- and four-lane alternatives from Hwy. Q to Oncken Road, and mostly four-lane alternatives from Oncken to Hwy. 113.

Another alternative was to limit access to Hwy. M and consolidate driveways with frontage roads in some cases, and right-in, right-out access in others.

Between Borchers Beach and Burr Oak, about 15 driveways could be removed. Some items moved forward and some didn’t.

Intersection improvements at Woodland Drive and Mary Lake are also among the alternatives.

As the engineers looked at the year 2045, they considered a signalized intersection at Oncken Road, although Schmitt noted the projections depend on how Bishops Bay develops by that time.

Hwy. K is a heavily traveled intersection. Three ranges of alternatives were considered – a signalized intersection, a roundabout and a separated roadway.

Last summer, when the Department of Transportation was seeking proposals for its Surface Transportation Improvement Program, the Hwy. M design was submitted to the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board for referral to the DOT.

The project ranked highest of all others submitted, and the project was approved by the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board for construction in the fall of 2023. It includes a four-lane section, a roundabout at Hwy. K, an additional bridge over Six Mile Creek, multi-modal connections, and necessary intersection improvements.

The roundabout will include a park-and-ride off of M, along with optional bypass lanes from M to K.

Improvements are also planned for the Willow Road intersection with one alternative calling for a right-in, right-out access on the western intersection and full access on the eastern side.

“As we look at the next phase of the study, we will get into much more detail as to exactly what we can do at Willow Road because we’ve got a lot of call for signal there,” Schmitt said.

The concern with a signal is its proximity to the one at Hwy. 113, he added.

The next step is the environmental document phase before going to final design.

The engineers will find out this month whether the plan has received DOT approval, but Schmitt said approval is likely because it has been accepted by the local transportation planning organization.

Public involvement meetings on the final designs are planned for this spring, Schmitt said.

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