The Wisconsin Department of Transportation began gathering information from the public for a major highways project study last week. Project leaders met with DeForest Windsor Area Chamber of Commerce members on Tuesday at the Lake Windsor Country Club to outline the scope and steps of the study.
The study is part of a plan for repairs and reconstruction of Interstates 39, 90, and 94 in the four-county region of Dane, Columbia, Sauk and Juneau. The 67-mile study goes from the US Hwy 12/18 Beltline south of Madison north to Dees Road/Hwys. 12 and 16 near Lyndon Station and along I-39 in the Portage area.
The project team said public engagement is an important aspect of the study. There are public informational meetings planned for September 2022, May 2023, and October 2023 before a June 2024 public hearing on the draft version of the environmental impact statement.
In addition to meetings, the DOT has a major projects section on its web page with answers to frequently asked questions, and portals for making direct comments on the issue.
The planners hope to form three advisory citizen committees. The first would include private citizens such as business owners and residents living near the project area. Another group will be local elected officials. The final group would bring in people like local engineers, community planners, and public works staff.
The project area is a backbone of Wisconsin’s interstate highway system. The 29 miles of concurrent interstate highway in Dane and Columbia counties is the longest stretch of its kind in the United States.
The route is the primary freight corridor in the state as 23 percent of the vehicle count is truck traffic, carrying $106 billion in freight each year.
It connects Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Madison and provides a connection to the tourism hub of the Wisconsin Dells area.
The Wisconsin River Bridges Project bisects the study overview. This section of interstate includes Wisconsin River crossings near Portage and in the Town of Dekorra. Those bridges were built in 1961 during the initial interstate construction and they are nearing the end of their lifespan. Construction of the replacement bridges is slated for 2024-2027. The position of the bridges will shift slightly as the state plans to keep Interstate traffic going in three lanes each way during the rebuild.
The state legislature has only enumerated funding for the study phase of the project. The project study plan is scheduled to be completed in 2024. Legislative debate and enumeration could come in 2025 and multiple years of work could begin in 2027-28.
The study collects information in a numbers of ways.
This is an environmental study to develop a preferred project alternative that will address safety issues, aging infrastructure and existing and future traffic volumes.
A number of factors are contributing to the need for the project.
The first is traffic count. The traffic counts range from 40,000 cars per day at Lake Delton to 108,000 north the Badger Interchange (where traffic splits between Milwaukee, Madison, and southbound toward Janesvillle and beyond. The heaviest traffic counts occur on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer. Traffic counts taken in 2021 show heavier usage than before the pandemic.
The next is the condition of the pavement. DOT project manager Frank Pritzlaff described it woeful, saying the last major pavement project was between 1985-1992.
The condition of the pavement and other issues are contributing to more traffic crashes and longer travel time.
Pritzlaff said the DOT will be staying within its current roadway footprint on this project. The exception would be areas where interchange improvements are needed.
One unique issue in this corridor is flooding events. Since 2008, there have been two events which closed I-39, I-90/94, and Hwy 33 near Baraboo along the Wisconsin River.
The close spacing of the US-51 and Hwy 19 interchanges, CTH V access for DeForest and area business, a pair of Canadian Pacific railroad crossings, businesses which generate significant freight, and coordination with local municipalities are important considerations in the DeForest and Windsor area.
The study will not consider bypass alternatives to the east. Any changes would be determined as the study progresses through alternatives development, environmental analysis and public engagement activities.
There will also be environmental studies for US-51 (Stoughton Road) from Voges Road in McFarland to Hwy 19 in DeForest. The studies will evaluate needs and alternatives in two sections to address land use trends, traffic operations and safety needs unique to each section. The US-51 (Stoughton Road) South Section is between Voges Road and WIS 30, and the US-51 (Stoughton Road) North Section is between WIS-30 and WIS-19.
Tony Sobczak of Mousehouse Cheesehaus was among the local businesses at Tuesday’s meeting. “The better the access, the more reason there is for people to get off the interstate. Once they get off, if it’s difficult for them to get to their destination, they won’t get off again,” he said of hopes and concerns for any future project.
In addition to Pritzlaff, the other presenters were Daniel Schave, major studies supervisor for the southwest region, Andy Kowske, project engineer for HNTB Corporation, and Cynthia De Vor of De Vor Communications.
Other audience members asked about the lifespan of the work once it is completed. A 50-year lifespan estimate was offered.
Another question asked about the time needed to complete the project. A rough estimate of eight to 16 years was offered. The comment “that’s a lot of orange cones,” drew some chuckles from the audience.
Schave said the early nature of the project makes it tough to nail down. “We are quite a ways from any plan,” Schave said.