The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) held a public hearing Tuesday night in response to growing concerns surrounding a proposed reconstruction of U.S. Highway 51 through McFarland and Stoughton.
Beginning at Interstate 39/90 and extending west through the city of Stoughton and north through the village of McFarland, WisDOT officials say the 18.6 miles of construction would address safety issues regarding crash rates, deteriorated pavement, congestion issues at key traffic times and an improvement of bike and pedestrian conditions.
If approved, the construction project would impact multiple areas of both McFarland and Stoughton, with roadway updates including:
-Left and right turn lanes added to all intersections on the stretch of U.S. 51 between County Highway B east to Exchange St. in McFarland.
-Roundabouts constructed at: U.S. 51 and County Highway B east intersection, U.S. 51 and County Highway B/County AB intersection, Exchange St. and U.S. 51 intersection, the Siggelkow Road interchange ramp, and intersections at Roby Road, WIS 138, and Hoel Ave.
-Pavement replaced on Larson Beach Road and Voges Road.
-Replacement of the railroad and southbound bridge over Taylor Road.
-Auxiliary lanes added on both sides of U.S. 51 from the Siggelkow Road interchange to a location just south of Voges Road.
-Four lane roadway expansion from Hoel Ave. to County Highway B east in Stoughton.
The proposed changes would also come with a price tag of roughly $174 million and likely displace at least two residential homes. It is expected that eight to 10 acres of wetland, 70 acres of public land, and 40 to 50 acres of agricultural land would be impacted by the construction.
Despite word from WisDOT that the project would solve more problems than it would create, municipal officials with the village of McFarland have raised doubts.
In January, McFarland Village Administrator Matt Schuenke publicly urged residents to contact WisDOT with concerns and request a public hearing.
The hearing, held virtually on Tuesday, April 20, showcased a detailed overview of the project and an opportunity for residents to speak publicly in support or disapproval of the construction.
Two people called in to deliver public comment, both voicing concerns with the project.
Schuenke was the first to deliver a public comment at the hearing, saying the village’s main concerns with the project revolve around how the proposed changes to U.S. 51 would negatively impact residents and decrease traffic to local businesses at a time they need it most.
“Most of our initial reviews have not been very supportive of what’s proposed… there’s a number of aspects of this project that we feel are not consistent with interactions with our local roadways,” Schuenke said. “We feel that it would harm our local businesses and interact negatively with our residents.”
According to Schuenke, the village has raised concerns about the project on several occasions over the past two years but has yet to receive a progressive response from WisDOT. The McFarland Village Board went on the record as early as 2019 with an official letter declaring the municipality’s disapproval.
“The village board representing the residents of McFarland has gone on the record, has provided a letter stating that we do not approve of the design and unfortunately do find that there are significant impacts this project as proposed has on our community,” Schuenke said.
He described WisDOT’s response as “unfortunate” and “disappointing,” saying the village would be open to compromise on the construction if WisDOT would be open to it as well.
“We’ve been working more collaboratively to reach some sort of resolution on these issues, but again, we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We do look forward to trying to work through these issues but… until they are resolved, the village remains opposed to the proposal as it’s laid out.”
WisDOT representatives were not permitted to respond to public comment at the hearing, but after a request for comment the following day, WisDOT Region Communications Manager Steve Theisen released the following statement in response to Schuenke’s remarks:
“The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) has worked with the Village of McFarland over the last several years during the US 51 Stoughton to McFarland corridor study. WisDOT began holding monthly progress meetings in early 2020 to best address their concerns with the project improvements. It is important to note that the preferred alternative could be modified during the final design process. WisDOT looks forward to continuing to work with the Village of McFarland as the design process begins later this year.”
While no Stoughton city officials relayed public comment at Tuesday night’s hearing, Stoughton Mayor Tim Swadley said in a statement to the McFarland Thistle that the city’s concerns are focused on “the timing and makeup of the phases [of construction].”
Sections of U.S. 51 are set to be constructed in seven different phases throughout the course of three years. WisDOT representatives said they’re hopeful that the project planning will conclude by June 2021 and begin official construction can begin by 2025.
A detailed map and plan for the proposed project can be found on WisDOT’s website at the following address: