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Local Government Leaders Hear Transportation Plans

AUG. 10, 2007--Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials recently outlined their plans for reconfiguring highways and the interstate in west-central Wisconsin over the next decade.

The information was shared at a recent meeting of the Western Wisconsin Intergovernmental Collaborative, which is a network for elected officials and administrators of all 99 jurisdictions in Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties.

Tom Beekman of WisDOT Northwest Region in Eau Claire outlined the construction schedule over the next decade for all major transportation projects in the three-county area. The Northwest Region comprises 20 counties with 31,381 miles of roads serving 651,980 residents.

"The information he provided was very beneficial in understanding the projects of significance in this region and how the department is planning for future improvements," said Theresa Johnson, St. Joseph's town chair and president of WWIC.

"It is important for WisDOT and the members of WWIC to have this kind of communication and interaction," she said. "We all benefit from the knowledge and issues that are shared."

Among the items shared by Beekman were:

· Wisconsin Hwy 35 north of River Falls is being reconfigured by 2012 into a freeway format. All access will be through freeway-configured entrance ramps, but the roadway will not be officially designated as a freeway. A stretch of highway garnering complaints north of the city will be resurfaced by this fall.

· The DOT has halted all resource allocation to the Stillwater bridge project until the most recent lawsuit by the Sierra Club is resolved. The suit will have its first hearing in U.S. District Court next spring.

·Traffic along the I-94 corridor throughout Wisconsin is so intense that lane closures for construction are creating the potential for a "perfect storm" of traffic tie-ups. As a result, repair projects are now scheduled around the clock to avoid closures, which is also driving up the costs by as much as 40 percent.

·To avoid traffic congestion on I-94 to the significant trucking industry north of the Tomah junction with I-90, the DOT is exploring adding permanent "intelligent traffic systems" of electronic information signs at that junction to warn traffic of accident delays or road closures so traffic can re-route through La Crosse.

·I-94 from Baldwin to Hudson is being designated as a freeway for planning purposes. Traffic counts at the St. Croix River bridge are equal to those of Madison heading east on I-94. The long-term intent is to expand the lanes and improve overpasses. The projects are so complicated and costly, and the region is growing so quickly, that it is putting the St. Croix Valley in competition with Madison and Milwaukee for state transportation resources.

·DOT preference for the I-94 St. Croix bridge is to extend light rail from downtown St. Paul to some point east of the river and link it to a parking garage. That will be more cost-effective that adding traffic lanes across the bridge. Light rail options are receiving additional attention for the metro area east of the I-494/694 junction.

·The Metropolitan Council is discussing adding St. Croix County to the council. That conversation is symbolic of the interconnectivity of St. Croix County to the metro region in which the council includes transportation corridor issues for that county as it plans for the seven-county core metro area.

·Metro traffic influence is affecting U.S. Highway 8 and U.S. Highway 63 to the north and as far as U.S. Highway 53 to the east. Commercial growth on U.S. 8 by St. Croix Falls is the most intense in the 20-county northwest region. Osceola now is a candidate for a bypass.

·No major increases in road improvement funding are in the foreseeable future.

Formed 15 months ago, WWIC meets quarterly to discuss emerging issues in the St. Croix Valley. Past topics for discussion have included smart growth concepts, state highway projects and public transportation, methamphetamine trafficking and prevention, public policy initiatives in the Legislature, waste water treatment options, and regional tourism and economic development.

"WWIC provides a collaborative forum for all governmental leaders of communities in Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties to share information and network with others on issues that are important to all of us," Johnson said.


Last updated: Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 16:08:26 Central Daylight Time


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