Grassroots group targets highway plan
If you go
What: Neighbors United will make a presentation to the Janesville Town Board. The group will present petitions in opposition to a proposed extension of the Highway 11 bypass to Highway 14 and ask the board to vote on a resolution in opposition to the project.
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Janesville Town Hall, 1628 N. Little Court, just off County A west of Janesville.
For more information: Visit facebook.com/JVLWINOBYPASS. The group also will be discussing its position and will have petitions available to sign from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at 4618 W. County A, which is the intersection of County A and Burdick Road.
JANESVILLE Opposition has formed to a proposal that could destroy homes and rip up hundreds of acres of farmland to connect the Highway 11 bypass and Highway 14 west of Janesville.
Neighbors United is a grassroots group that has come together in the last month to oppose a state Department of Transportation study that includes two options for a four-mile stretch of new highway.
The group is circulating petitions in opposition. It will make a presentation to the Janesville Town Board on Monday with the hope that supervisors will pass a resolution opposing the extension.
For years, the state has been studying the Highway 11/14 corridor in Rock and Walworth counties. Generally, the studies have broken into eastern and western sections, with Interstate 90/39 as the dividing line.
State officials have said that projected traffic increases and safety concerns support a connection between the bypass and Highway 14 in Janesville Township.
The state has five alternatives for the western project:
-- Do nothing, other than routine maintenance on existing highways.
-- Make improvements that could include intersection, signal or other access modifications.
-- Widen Highway 14 from two lanes to four west of Highway 51. Highway 14 east of Highway 51 and through Janesville would be expanded from four lanes to six. This alternative is referred to in DOT documents as W3.
-- Relocate part of Highway 14 at a point between Britt and Burdick roads, angling it southeast along property lines to join Highway 11. This alternative is referred to as W4.
-- Relocate part of Highway 14 at a point east of Burdick Road, running it straight south to Highway 11. This alternative is referred to as W5.
The latter two alternatives would be built as two-lane highways. They would, however, include enough right-of-way so the road could be expanded to four lanes.
As the state moves forward with plans to widen Interstate 90/39 to six lanes between Beloit and Madison, officials have said the connection between the Highway 11 bypass and Highway 14 is timely. It would handle traffic detoured off the Interstate during construction.
Neighbors United argues the I-90/39 project is driving the bypass proposal because outdated traffic counts and projections do not alone support an extension of the bypass. The group also believes it's highly unlikely that either of the two options for new roads could be built in a timeframe to handle Interstate detours.
"They'd be built at about the same time," said Michael Everhart, the group's spokesperson.
Construction costs for the western proposal are preliminary and vary depending on the alternative. They range from zero for doing nothing to $180 million for the four-lane version of either W4 or W5.
Initially, however, the state has said that either W4 or W5 would be built as a two-lane highway at a cost of about $50 million.
Expanding Highway 14 would cost about $50 million.
A state-hired infrastructure consultant on the project has said an environmental impact statement will be done later this year. The project then would move into the design phase, with anticipated construction in the spring of 2015.
By definition, the W4 and W5 options classify as a major project in the state's highway program, primarily because they cost more than $30 million and involve the construction of more than 2 1/2 miles of new highway.
As such, major highway projects must follow specific channels that involve the Legislature, the governor and the state Transportation Projects Commission. Only then can such a project be placed and prioritized in the state's construction pipeline, which already is filled through 2019.
"If it's a major project, they need to go through the full process," Everhart said. "What's the rush?"
He and others speculate that the state—which could make a decision by fall—wants the extension tied to the Interstate expansion project, both in terms of handling construction detours and providing funding.
State officials have said the bypass extension is necessary on it's own merit, regardless of what goes on with the Interstate.
Neighbors United questions that as well, arguing that the state's traffic counts and projections don't equate to gridlock in Janesville.
Most of the traffic on Highway 51 through Janesville—about 75 percent—is people traveling to various points within the city, not people trying to get through it, Everhart said.
In addition, he contends that people are driving far less than they did when data was collected in 2003. At the time, the data was projected to 2035, but Everhart said the 2003 projections include seven years of growth that did not occur.
"There are definitely problems on Highway 14, and it has crash rates above the state average, but I don't know how a bypass extension addresses or solves that," he said. "What they should be talking about is fixing Highway 14."
Everhart said the data does not support an extension of the bypass.
In addition, he said, taxpayers would foot a bill of $50 million to $180 million for a road based on "half-truths and snake-oiled into existence" by the Interstate expansion project.
With either option, eight to 11 homes would be lost, as would hundreds of acres of farmland, creating a hole in the tax base, he said.
A Neighbors United meeting last weekend was attended by more than 70 people, Everhart said. On Sunday, group members will start the first phase of their own traffic counts on the current bypass.
The group is energized and motivated to save farmland and homes, he said. Thanks to its younger members, it is using social media such as YouTube and Facebook to push its message.
"Clearly, there are a lot of upset people," Everhart said. "We just needed a little direction to channel our efforts, and it's coming together really well."