Alternative visions: Road improvement project blocked

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Tuesday, September 3, 2013

TOWN OF LA PRAIRIE--In an ideal world, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation would have an alternate route for each section of Interstate 90/39 to accommodate accidents and construction projects.

In an ideal world, town of La Prairie officials would preserve the rural character of their town.

The difference between the two worlds came down to a half mile of road, and it gave town officials the ability to block a proposed alternate route using County J.

The route would have run east from the Interstate along Avalon Road to County J.  From there, it would have gone north to Racine Street and then back to the Interstate.

The state intended to widen County J, impacting farmland and front yards along the way.

“The state worked pretty hard to tailor a deal to meet our needs,” said Allan Arndt, town of La Prairie chairman. “But at the end of the day, building that road would have impacted our residents negatively.”

The town controls only the half-mile section of Avalon Road that connects the Interstate to County J, but that's all it needed. The town wouldn't allow the state to upgrade that half-mile of road to handle the additional truck traffic.

At a meeting Thursday, Rock County Highway Superintendent Ben Coopman will ask the county highway committee how to proceed with the issue.

The improvements to County J would have included improving the strength of the road, widening and paving the shoulders, improving the intersection at County O and County J and improving site lines, Coopman said in a memo to the committee.

He estimated the project would have cost between $4 million and $5 million dollars, and the state was planning to pay for it.

“There is a large financial implication to the Rock County taxpayers,” Coopman said. “If that road needs to be done at some future time, we will have to pay for it.”

He anticipates that such improvements will need to be made between 10 and 15 years from now.

The county could ask the town for a “jurisdictional transfer” for that portion of Avalon Road, but the town does not have to agree to it and cannot be forced to do so, Coopman said.

For the La Prairie Town Board and residents, the significant sticking points of the plan were increased traffic and the 90-foot right-of-way, Arndt said.

Right now, the right-of-way is about 60 feet, and the additional land would have cut into residents' front yards and farm fields.

“It would have given a whole different feel to living on that road,” Arndt said.

He acknowledged that even without official designation, the road will be used as an alternative route, but that's something the board was willing to live with.

The Department of Transportation, the county and the city of Beloit entered into an agreement last year to extend Inman Parkway to County S and then to the Interstate. The agreement also includes plans to improve County G as an alternate route.

At Thursday's meeting, the county highway committee also will be asked to approve an alternate route from Illinois Highway 75 to Gateway Boulevard to Hart Road to Shopiere Road and back to the Interstate.

At a future date, an alternate route to take traffic from Racine Street to Highway 14 and through Janesville to Highway 51 also will be considered. Motorists would then take Highway 51 north through Edgerton to the Interstate. Coopman said he didn't anticipate significant changes to Highway 51.

All these alternate routes are being considered in advance of a $1 billion project to expand a 45-mile segment of the Interstate to three or four lanes in each direction and reconstruct all of the segment's 11 interchanges and 100 bridges.

Full-blown work will start on the Interstate in 2015 and run to 2021. This year, Rock County residents are getting a taste of the work as the state reconfigures the Racine Street interchange.

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