Highway 11 bypass project takes a hit
The yard signs in the neighborhood around Janesville Town Hall indicate a clear difference of opinion on whether to recall or stand with the state's governor.
But a string of yellow yard signs show there's a strong consensus among neighbors who don't want the state to build a new highway to connect the Highway 11 bypass with Highway 14.
That was evident Monday as residents filled their town hall for a presentation by Neighbors United, a grassroots group formed in the last month to oppose a state Department of Transportation study that includes two options for a new highway.
Immediately after the presentation, the Janesville Town Board unanimously approved a resolution opposing construction of any new highway in the township.
Neighbors United spokesman Michael Everhart said the state's planned expansion of Interstate 90/39 from four lanes to six is driving what has become an accelerated discussion of a connection from the Highway 11 bypass to Highway 14.
State officials have said the connection is necessary to alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 51 through Janesville. They've also said the connection would handle detoured traffic from the Interstate.
At issue, Everhart said, is whether the state is interested in the bypass connection as a relief valve for the Interstate, or whether it seriously believes that traffic counts warrant a new highway on Janesville's west side.
If it's the latter, Everhart said, the project would be classified as a "major" project for the state and require approval from the Legislature, governor and the state's Transportation Projects Commission, which already has a backlog of major projects through 2019.
State Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, said he is awaiting a clear answer on the state's position.
"They keep talking about this as a project that stands on its own merits, but about every 20 seconds they get around to how it will help bleed some of the traffic off the Interstate," said Wynn, who represents residents in the township.
State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, said it's important that the bypass connection be classified as it should be, and that's as a project judged on its own merit and not connected to any other construction project.
Wynn suggested that state officials might be trying to get the bypass connection built with funding tied to the Interstate expansion. That way, he said, the project could be fast-tracked and not have to go through the typical legislative pipeline that other major highway projects must endure.
Even if that's the case, Everhart and others wonder what problem the construction of the connection would solve if it were built on the same timeline as the Interstate expansion.
Everhart said the project is a "want rather than a need," one based on 2003 traffic counts that the state projected out to 2035.
Those numbers, he said, have been flat and have not increased as the state expected, primarily because of the loss of General Motors on Janesville's south side, the general economic downturn and the lack of houses that were expected to be built on the city's west side.
The connection, which would cost between $50 million and $180 million, would rip up a minimum of 215 acres of farmland and force the removal of up to 11 homes, he said.
So far, Neighbors United has collected more than 1,100 signatures on petitions opposing a new highway. The group also is circulating a form letter that asks Gov. Scott Walker to stop the project.
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 west of Highway 51 from two lanes to four lanes, and widen Highway 14 east of Highway 51 and through Janesville from four lanes to six lanes. This alternative is referred to in state transportation 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.
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.