Alternatives abound in distant I-43 work from Glendale to Grafton
DOT reveals first list of preliminary designs
Glendale - The future of Interstate 43 is coming into focus.
The Wisconsin DOT held a pair of public information meetings last week, for the first time showing design alternatives for the highway and interchanges along a 14-mile stretch of I-43 from Silver Spring Drive to Highway 60 in Grafton.
Alternatives range from modest spot improvements of the existing highway to lane expansions, overpass constructions, and elevation changes which would either sink I-43 under certain existing streets, or in one design, raise it to a maximum height of 60 feet off the ground in the Glendale area.
All of the designs are meant to update the highway to modern design standards and accommodate ever-increasing traffic in the I-43 corridor, which according to the DOT carries approximately 49,000 vehicles daily near Grafton and 85,000 per day near Silver Spring.
"Traffic is growing every day," Project Manager Manojoy Nag said at the Wednesday meeting at Nicolet High School. "It's going to keep growing."
Assuming the state Transportation Projects Commission decides in the coming years to fund the project, construction is slated for 2019.
The 'critical area'
Nag described the stretch of I-43 from Silver Spring Drive to Good Hope Road as a "critical area" of the reconstruction. The stretch from Bender to Green Tree roads contains nearly all of the project's potential real estate acquisitions, ranging from one acquisition for a simple four-lane reconstruction to 10 for a six-lane design which shifts the highway west.
Citing concerns over safety, congestion, lack of vertical clearance under bridges and outdated design, the DOT brought forward eight prospective designs of varying cost and impact to the surrounding area.
The least impactful design includes spot improvements to the area and the addition of a median barrier, without requiring any potential real estate acquisitions.
The rest of the designs range from an update of I-43 without any added lanes to a number of different takes on a six-lane highway.
One would expand I-43 outward from its current location, while another would shift the highway east. Others would shift the highway west, thereby eliminating sections of neighboring Jean Nicolet Road, or raise I-43 up - to an apex of 60 feet in one design - over the nearby railroad and cross streets. Another design would depress the highway, taking it underneath the railroad and Green Tree Road.
Several of the designs would also expand Port Washington Road to four lanes from Bender Road to Coventry Court. In several designs a new bridge conveys Coventry Court over the highway and becomes the new primary entrance to Nicolet High School.
"I think the residents of (the neighboring Clovernook subdivision) need to have an understanding of what's happening here," said Glendale Alderman Elliot Moeser of the proposals, several of which could impact accessibility to the subdivision. He added that he will call a meeting between neighborhood residents and the DOT.
Glendale resident Mark Mandel, a resident in the Clovernook area, said the DOT needs to pay more attention to the area surrounding the highway.
"I don't think somebody rode down the streets to see where they're putting people," Mandel said.
Glendale Alderman Richard Wiese commented that he was concerned over emergency service access to the area.
Another option presented at the meetings is an interchange at Highland Road in Mequon, a narrow diamond design meant to give residents access to the highway but avoid an impact on the nearby railroad.
Nag said the DOT would begin with a 50/50 cost sharing agreement - though there could be flexibility - with Mequon if the design were to go forward.
The handful of Mequon residents interviewed by NOW reporter Danielle Switalski at the meeting at Christ Church in Mequon last week was in favor of the project. In fact, they felt it was a long time coming.
"I wish they would have done it 35 years ago," Mequon resident Karen Mages said.
Her husband, Tom Mages, agreed, saying the widening of the roadway is long overdue. Both are especially in favor of the Highland interchange because it will serve the university, MATC and the hospital. The only caveat for Tom Mages is that he wants DOT to take the project all the way to Highway 33.
"I wish they would go to 33 because then it splits off when you have two options to go to Green Bay," he said.
Longtime Mequon resident Gary Watson is also in favor of the Highland interchange, saying it will create value for the community as a whole while taking some of the heavy traffic load off the Mequon Road interchange.
"We need more capacity and maintenance," said Watson, who has lived in the city for 35 years.
Susie Peters, who lives just on the outskirts of Mequon, commutes two ways on the freeway, sometimes to South Milwaukee and sometimes to Manitowoc. Being from southern California, she said she has dealt with the worst kind of freeway gridlock and is surprised by the type of similar backup that can sometimes occur on Highway 43.
"I'm kind of excited," she said of the project. "The Highland Road ramps will be awesome."
Down the road
Between the first round of public informational meetings in August 2012 and now, Nag said the DOT fielded input from local residents on a variety of issues like noise, congestion, safety and land acquisitions.
"They get concerned. Rightfully so," Nag said, "but there's a process we have to go through."
That process includes additional public meetings in August 2013 and February 2014, and environmental impact studies. In 2014 the state Transportation Projects Commission will weigh the I-43 project against other similar projects around the state and determine if and how much funding to give.
In the meantime the DOT will be looking to residents for further feedback, with which they will begin to whittle their list of alternatives.
"That's going to give us some good ideas," Nag said. "We take all those ideas, make some tweaks, and address the citizens' concern."
More information on the project is available on the DOT project page: http://www.dot.state.wi.us/projects/seregion/43/index.htm
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