DOT unveils plan for new Interstate interchange in Beloit
BELOIT—Several business owners along Beloit's busy Milwaukee Road are concerned that a redesigned Interstate interchange will cut them off from paying customers from the east.
Some even suggested the planned interchange for Interstates 90/39 and 43 is better tailored for a business park under development than the vibrant retail and hospitality community that already exists west of the interchange.
“This will hurt small businesses” and “Don't choke us off” were heard from business owners attending a well-attended information meeting Tuesday in Beloit.
Sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the meeting sought input on the state's plans for the interchange, part of the massive project that will expand Interstate 90/39 from the Illinois border to Madison.
In December, the department presented five different versions of the interchange's redesign.
Tuesday, it was back with a preferred version.
The $110-million plan includes a free-flow, high-speed interchange that connects the two Interstates.
A diamond interchange will provide access from I-90/39 to Highway 81 and the city.
Highway 81 will be extended to the east to connect with Gateway Boulevard, providing a local connector between the east and west sides of the Interstate. It will continue to County X/Hart Road.
Access to Beloit from I-43 and the east will come from the County X/Hart Road interchange and the new Highway 81 connector road.
It's that access from the east that concerned some at Tuesday's meeting.
Asking motorists to exit I-43 well to the east of its interchange with I-90/39 and then take a “side road” into Beloit is too much, they said.
DOT officials said the days of having an Interstate run straight into a city, as I-43 does now, are over. That's because Interstate-to-Interstate connections now must be designed for highway speeds, they said.
Designing a new I-43 off-ramp west of Hart Road and closer to the city would cost millions of dollars more, and officials said it isn't warranted.
Larry Arft, Beloit's city manager, said the new design meets the city's mandate to have a solid east-west connection.
Without the Highway 81 connection, Arft said the Interstate would permanently divide the area.
“The businesses here tonight have expressed some concerns about that,” he said. “We appreciate and understand that, but we spent two years studying this to make sure it would work.
“The reality is that they're going to pick up more business, more new customers, coming out of the Gateway Business Park than they would ever lose because of the Hart Road interchange.”
Arft said the Hart Road interchange would be well marked and include welcome signage.
DOT officials said the three roundabouts at the interchange also could be tweaked to better handle more traffic that often includes trucks and farm implements.
“The roundabouts at Hart Road are too small,” Arft said. “It was a first generation design that they put in, and they weren't in a week when we realized, whoops, these are too small.”
Arft said the city is working with the DOT to redesign the roundabouts, possible enlarging them to the inside. That, he said, would be far more cost efficient than building new, larger roundabouts.
Mike Preboske, the state's project consultant for the southern section of the overall Interstate expansion project, said the department likely would return with a final design next fall and then begin real estate acquisition.
The latest design would require the state to acquire 82 acres, about 67 percent of which now are farm operations.
The entire 45-mile, $950-million expansion project includes three segments.
The southern section includes a 12-mile stretch that runs from the state line to County O south of Janesville.
While construction is expected to start in various places across all three segments in 2015, the interchange work in Beloit is scheduled to start in late 2017, said Steve Marshall, the DOT's project manager for the southern segment.