When approaching the planned 2017 reconstruction of STH 61 through Lancaster, including the rebuilding of the streets around the Grant County Courthouse, members of the Common Council were concerned that there may be negative changes to the traffic patterns. When the agenda for their meeting with the groups who will head up the reconstruction, again the fears mounted, as changes in traffic, and even the mere mention of studying the viability of a roundabout at Elm and Madison streets struck concern.
Turns out, things probably will not be changing much, at least for traffic, after all.
“I underlined this when Gary Corcoran said this, he said “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” City Administrator Steve Winger surmised of the meeting last Thursday on the project, with the consensus that the state was not going to make any changes the city did not want, at least concerning traffic flow and roundabouts.
Corcoran is from Onieda Total Integration Enterprises (OTIE), which is overseeing the project for the DOT.
In that agenda for the meeting, the listing talked about making all streets around the square two-way, and studying the feasibility of a roundabout at the corner of Elm and Madison. Winger stated that DOT officials, as well as from OTIE, the firm working on the project, those listings were because for a state project, all the options need to be looked at, but nothing would be changed if the city was not on board.
This means for the $8 million project, much of the way traffic flows now will stay, which is what those attended for the city wanted to hear. During a public hearing conducted by the city council, a overwhelming majority of residents and business owners wanted to keep the current traffic pattern.
Residents will again be able to voice their thoughts on the project April 10, when a forum will be held at City Hall from 5 to 7 p.m.
There were still a number of things that would need to be determined before work begins in Spring 2017, however.
One of the issues concerns the mid-block pedestrian crossings that bisect the streets on three sides of the square.
Currently, in the middle of Madison, Maple, and Jefferson streets there are marked crossings. Winger noted that the current configuration is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
There are two options concerning the mid-block crossings - eliminate them or reduce parking by creating sidewalk bumpouts that would give pedestrians the ability to see without having to walk between vehicles.
Police Chief Steve Zabel preferred eliminating the crosswalks. “I think they are unsafe, and they should have never been put in,” Zabel said, noting the concerns, like drivers having to be on the lookout for walkers mid-block while they may be switching lanes to go around the square.
And modern designs for crosswalks mid-block, as individuals need to leave the curb and walk in-between vehicles in order to venture on the crosswalks.
If the crosswalks were to remain, the curb and sidewalks may need to jut out to the roadway, which may also mean losing some parking around the square.
In addition, while the state had acknowledge no desire to change traffic patterns, there was no pulling back to the proposal to eliminate parking along Madison Street north of Elm Street. That removal of parking would likely lead to a bicycle path to run right next to the roadway, as common practice is to install bike paths where possible.
Winger stated that the city could request parking remain, but the added cost of making the road wide enough for this would require part of the project be covered by the city.
Another change would be an increase in the width of the sidewalks that run along Madison Street. Plans would call for five-foot-wide sidewalks, which is not an issue downtown, but may be wider than sidewalks currently running in front of some residences.
As part of the project, the city will be required to acquire land needed to handle right-of-way changes for the project. What those acquisitions are, it has not been determined as there are no plans drawn yet for the project.
One possible location for acquisition will be where USH 61 makes an angled turn just before City Limits Road. Considered a traffic issue, with blind spots for drivers, and part of the solution would be to shift the intersection, and make it have 90-degree angles for the intersection.
More items are far from the planning stages yet as well. Winger noted that part of the budget for the project would call for beautification items for the project, such as replacing the taller streetlights (the antique style pedestrian lights would be used), benches, planters, trees, and those would need to be determined but the DOT and the city.
It also sounded like the project would be done all at once, as opposed to being done in phases, as that would add to the price. Various council members asked about phases, including spreading it out over two years, and those ideas were downplayed, as it would increase the cost.
Unlike the Fennimore Main Street project, front door access to businesses downtown would continue throughout the project, with the exception access being cut off a day or two while concrete for new sidewalks would be poured.
The street surface for the new streets will also be concrete.
Winger cautioned that things are from being decided on the project, as there are no official drawings had been done yet.
Another interesting tidbit learned at the meeting is traffic usage through the city. DOT conducted three separate traffic reviews in the city last year, and determined that during that time that truck traffic around the square amounted to 16 percent of total traffic.
For anyone hoping that the project would somehow be moved up, those working on the project felt the only way that would happen is if the item was moved up in the state budget, like what happened for the portion of STH 61 running south of Lancaster to Dickeyville. Originally slated for 2014, the project was written into the biennium budget in 2009, which was unusual.