EDITORIAL: Don’t let DOT squeeze its mistake into two lanes

Has the Wisconsin Department of Transportation seen the light? Is it seeking redemption for its heedless paving of vast stretches of state land as the rote response to real or imagined transportation needs? Or is the DOT just admitting a dumb mistake while its profligate paving remains business as usual?

These questions arise from the out-of-the blue, off-the-wall proposal that a portion of Highway 33 between Port Washington and Saukville be converted to a two-lane road a little more than a decade after the DOT mandated that it be built as a four-lane, freeway-size highway for intercommunity traffic traveling at 35 mph.

State highway planners are telling Port Washington officials the change is necessary because this stretch of Highway 33 doesn’t have enough traffic to justify four lanes.

They work for the same agency that in 2012 insisted that the road that basically served as a city street connecting Port and Saukville be rebuilt as a four-lane highway. DOT highway planners countered the objections of local officials and landowners with projections that the road would be used by 30,000 vehicles each day by 2030.

At the time, daily traffic was 10,000 vehicles. Today it is even less, according to Rob Vanden Noven, Port Washington’s director of public works. Traffic volume will “never get anywhere  near” what was predicted by the DOT, he said.

The road was built as the DOT wanted it—excessive in its size and in its cost in dollars and land. A home near the east end of the four-lane road stands as a symbol of this excess. Its front yard was paved over; vehicles now pass a few feet from its front door.

This has long been standard operating procedure for the state highway planners. Highway 33’s new concrete had barely dried before the DOT outraged a broad sector of local interests with a plan to rebuild Highway 60 with a 270-foot wide bypass in the Town of Cedarburg that, as an Ozaukee Press editorial put it, “would be nearly three times as wide as the existing road and consume hundreds of acres of farmland, wetland and green space.” The affected municipalities and organized landowners fought the project.

Back in Port Washington, South Spring Street resembles an airport runway because the DOT required it to be four lanes wide, even though only two are used for traffic and the rest is concrete landscape.

Last week, the Port Washington Board of Public Works rejected the DOT plan to remake Highway 33 as a two-lane road for the good reason that it makes no sense. It was a mistake to build the road as a four-laner, but that can’t be erased by changing one lane in each direction to a designated bike lane, as the DOT proposes. Port officials should stay firm in opposing it.

The bike lanes would be superfluous; a multi-use path used by bicycles is already in place beside the highway. What’s more, the four-lane road, though wasteful when it was built, happens to work well with its moderate traffic volume. It connects seamlessly with the three roundabouts that safely and smoothly blend traffic from roads crossing Highway 33.

Optimists may see a sign of positive change in the DOT’s new embrace of the concept of a two-lane road. Others may find the idea of building a four-lane road and then declaring two of its lanes off limits for motor vehicles foolhardy enough to cause shudders over the fact that the agency proposing it is spending $7.1 billion in its current budget to turn its ideas into concrete.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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