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How to make a good new highway better PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 26 September 2012 16:28

The DOT provided a vastly improved Highway 33 with smart use of roundabouts; the City of Port is making it even better by getting rid of an excess of unneeded signs.

On Nov. 14 the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce will present its annual City Beautification Award for “contributions to the community through beautifying our landscape.” We nominate the members of the Port Washington Board of Public Works and Common Council for this honor.

    They deserve it for standing up to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and insisting that some 30 redundant, unnecessary and unsightly traffic signs be removed from the new Highway 33 at the western edge of the city.

    That 30 signs can be removed without conflicting with federal highway safety regulations speaks volumes about the wretched excess of signage inflicted on this rebuilt highway connection to the Grand Avenue entrance to Port Washington.

    Port Washington officials were counting on the new and improved Highway 33 gateway to be an aesthetic upgrade, thanks to removing the Highway LL overpass, burying utility wires, installing decorative street lights and elaborately landscaping the median. But then came the DOT’s sign barrage.

    The DOT plastered the roadside, the median and even the sky with signs pointing out what, as one city official put it, was obvious to any motorist alert enough to qualify for a drivers license.

    Repetitive signs were posted around crosswalks already marked with large rectangles on the pavement. Left-turn lanes, which anyone in a conscious state could recognize as left-turn lanes and were marked on the pavement for good measure, were excuses for more signs. Beefy metal structures were erected for
elevated signs repeating information about roundabouts provided with other markers.

    The state initially resisted the effort to remove the superfluous signage, but the city persevered. The Board of Public Works voted to take down the sign clutter and the Common Council added an exclamation point to the action with a ratifying vote.    The city will have to pay the cost of taking down the signs. The estimated $2,000 to do that will be money well spent; the money spent by the DOT to erect the forest of signs was not.

    The Highway 33 project will be declared finished Friday morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. With construction lingering on for more than a year, it has been a long, difficult haul for businesses along the road and a persistent irritation for frequent travelers on the route. All things considered, though, it was worth the aggravation.

    Even though the four-lane highway/street has a lower speed limit than the old two-lane Highway 33 (rather counter-intuitively), it makes travel between Port Washington and Saukville quicker and more efficient, thanks to the wise use of roundabouts at three intersections.

    It is to the DOT’s credit that the agency specified the roundabouts even though they remain controversial in Wisconsin. When State Rep. Duey Stroebel of Cedarburg recently asked his constituents in a survey what they thought of roundabouts, 59% said they disapproved of them; only 37% liked them.

    This can probably be chalked up to merely an age-old distrust of the new and different, for roundabouts come with a host of advantages over traditional road crossings. For one, they’re safer. A wealth of data makes the case that roundabouts have substantially fewer serious crashes than traditional intersections.

    Beyond that, the charm of these traffic circles is that they keep traffic moving. This is critical at the two intersections in the Saukville portion of the new Highway 33 that have roundabouts. Before the roundabout was built at Northwoods Road and Highway 33, southbound and northbound vehicles had a hard time getting across the intersection at peak traffic times. Driver frustration probably contributed to a number of collisions    

    At the old Market Street intersection, waiting for permission from the fleeting green light to enter or cross Highway 33 could seem like an eternity. With the roundabout, there is less waiting, less fuel wasted idling and less frustration.

    It is true that roundabouts require something stops signs and red traffic lights don’t—making a judgment on when to yield the right of way. That’s hardly too much to ask of people licensed to drive.

    The new Highway 33 is generally a success and will be more so when the City of Port Washington rids the road of 30 unnecessary signs. The officials responsible for that deserve recognition for an act of civic beautification.

Another Saukville gas station? No (again) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 16:24

The village has repeatedly rejected a Kwik Trip outlet on prime real estate; it should reject a zoning change that would open the door

A 15-acre parcel of land in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Highway 33 and I-43 has such commercial appeal that it should be a development magnet for the Village of Saukville. What’s more, the property is in the hands of a successful, aggressive real estate development company, Ansay Development Corp., that has the wherewithal to make something positive happen for village growth. So why in the world is a gas station even being considered for the site?

    The village government has made it plain that it does not want to consider it. Starting last year, the Village Board, the Plan Commission and the village president have said no in various ways to a proposal to allow a Kwik Trip gas station and convenience store on the property.        

    In August, the Plan Commission rejected an Ansay request to ease setback rules for gas stations. Two weeks ago, the Village Board unanimously rejected a zoning amendment requested by Ansay that would have cleared the way for Kwik Trip. Just last week, the Plan Commission rejected an ordinance change proposed by Ansay that would have empowered the commission to waive an environmental setback requirement.

    Now, unfortunately, a chink has appeared in the village’s armor. The Plan Commission recommended an ordinance drafted by its staff that would reduce the required setback from wetlands from 1,000 feet to 600 feet, the minimum allowed by state law, and would go even further by permitting gas pumps closer to protected areas if it is determined they pose no environmental risk. The ordinance would effectively open the door to Kwik Trip.

     Approval by the Village Board of this misguided ordinance, which will be the subject of a public hearing on Oct. 2, would be a two-fold mistake—weakening sensible environmental protection and accommodating a development officials have said is not what the village needs.

    The prohibition of gas stations within 1,000 feet of an environmental corridor or conservancy area was added to the zoning code in 2007. Nothing has changed since then except that Kwik Trip wants to build closer to a wetland that drains into the Milwaukee River than the ordinance allows. That is not a valid reason to change the ordinance.

    Environmental issues aside, village officials have been opposed to Kwik Trip because they think Saukville can do better than putting a gas station on a prime site.  

    The suggestion by Neil Tiziani, general manager of the Ansay real estate division, that a Kwik Trip outlet would encourage other development in Saukville is not persuasive. No disrespect intended to gas stations—communities need them and they are solid contributors to local economies—but gas stations do not spur development.

     In fact, Kwik Trip, a $9 billion chain with 580 stations in 10 states that boasts on its website that its “strategy is to be the dominant convenience/gasoline retailer in each market,” could have the opposite effect by putting existing Saukville competitors out of business. One gas station/convenience store is located adjacent to the proposed Kwik Trip site; another is about two blocks away.     

    Village planners have designated the site coveted by Kwik Trip as part of an entertainment district where a hotel would be an ideal land use. Granted, it could take some time to find a development of that nature. Also granted, Ansay has a development in hand, hence the ongoing pressure on the village.

    Tiziani was certainly right when he told the Village Board at a recent meeting, “This is a great location and there is no question that it is going to be developed.”

    But that is precisely why the village should not bend zoning restrictions for a development that does not fit its plans.

Paving the countryside a bad option for Highway 60 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 17:16

The DOT remedy for congestion on the road is radical widening or land-consuming bypasses; affected communities want no part of either option, with good reason

Traffic is getting progressively heavier on Highway 60 between the villages of Grafton and Jackson. There is some congestion at peak commuting times that causes traffic to slow down and there have been some accidents at intersections.

    Sounds like there could be a problem here. What to do?

    Simple. Just replace parts of the road with magnificent new bypass highways that would be nearly three times as wide as the existing road and consume hundreds of acres of farmland, wetland and green space.

    That this is one of the options proposed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for the rebuilding of Highway 60 between the west side of Jackson and downtown Grafton suggests the department is lost in a time warp (circa 1960s) in which the consequences of urban sprawl, the benefits of preserving the green countryside and the wisdom of reining in highway spending are foreign concepts.

    These grand swaths of concrete are proposed to reroute the highway around Five Corners and Jackson. The Town Board of Cedarburg, in which Five Corners is located, and the Village Board of Jackson have approved strongly worded resolutions opposing the bypasses and every other option proposed by the DOT for reconstruction of Highway 60.

    They have plenty of company. A group of property owners organized under the name Mi60, the City of Cedarburg, business owners, homeowners and even Cedarburg’s St. Francis Borgia Catholic Parish oppose the DOT proposals.            

    Each of these stakeholders has specific reasons to fight the DOT proposals. The parish objects because one of the bypasses would go through land it owns in the Town of Cedarburg that is to be the site of a new parish school. Other opponents cite the damage to businesses caused by rerouting the highway and the loss of land, homes and commercial buildings that would be claimed for the wider highway right of way under the various DOT options.    

    Taxpayers who don’t own property along the highway and don’t drive on it regularly have a stake in the rebuilding of the highway too. For what the DOT is proposing would cost millions of tax dollars and the bypass plan would be a setback for enlightened use of the once-rural land west of Grafton that would be widely felt.

    The long, super-wide bypasses (270 feet wide compared to the current Highway 60 right-of-way width of 100 feet), like other Highway 60 widening proposals, would be a traffic magnets that would hasten the day when the rebuilt highway would be congested again.

    The DOT defends the bypasses as a better option than taking land, some of which is occupied by historic buildings in Jackson, to widen the existing highway.

    Here’s an even better option: Don’t widen the road in Jackson.

    Building a bigger highway is a typical first choice for DOT—a bureaucratic knee-jerk reaction from an agency whose highway budget for this year is just under half a billion dollars—but there are other ways to make the road safer and mitigate some of the congestion, using features like turning lanes and roundabouts, or opting for selective widening and speed limit reductions.

    Congested highways are the wages of development. Government has an obligation to take reasonable measures to abet safety, but there is no imperative to ensure that travel on roads like Highway 60 is fast or free of inconvenient slow-downs at all times.

     Congested roads are a gentle brake on speeding development, while wider roads built to facilitate faster travel fuel a revolving dynamic of wide highways leading to accelerated development leading to congested highways leading to pressure to build even wider highways.

    At a public meeting in Jackson starting at 4 p.m. Thursday, DOT staff members will present their plans for Highway 60. Their presentation will be met with well-founded opposition to excessive widening and wasteful bypasses. DOT decision makers should pay heed.

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