Dear Milton: Thanks for the signs

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Neil Johnson
Friday, December 6, 2013

MILTON—As the city of Milton adjusts to life inside the loop of the new Highway 26 bypass, city officials and local business owners say they're seeing signs that fewer travelers to Milton are getting confused and lost.

It could be that drivers are becoming familiar with the new bypass route, which swings a mile east of the city and cuts off direct access to the city's east side downtown, yet still allows access through exits and modified side roads.

Or it could be the benefit of a slew of new directional signs recently installed at key points along the bypass that officials say are helping travelers set their compass on Milton.

Within the last few weeks, the state Department of Transportation installed directional signs at key intersections, including at the roundabouts at the Highway 59/Highway 26 interchange, City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said.

Those signs until recently were conspicuously absent, and led to motorists—even those familiar with Milton—getting lost, missing turnoffs and even ending up in Whitewater or Fort Atkinson, officials and business owners have said.

The city had pressed to get the signs installed quickly and forged intergovernmental agreements with the towns of Harmony and Milton to get directional signs placed on the realigned Henke Road and sets of signs on Harmony Town Hall Road and Milton-Harmony Townline Road, Schuetz said.

Those roads used to feed directly into Milton but have been realigned for the bypass and, in the case of Henke Road and Milton-Harmony Townline, separated from Highway 26 by overpasses without exits.

The new signs do what would seems obvious to some travelers who have either learned the bypass intricacies or never struggled with the new route—they point drivers to side streets and main routes into Milton with an arrow.

At other intersections along the bypass, including the interchange at Highway 59, the state has placed a few attraction signs that point travelers to a few local restaurants and businesses.

DOT officials had cautioned the city not to expect all motorists to have the bypass mastered for at least a year, Schuetz said. But he said the new signs  seemed to have helped, and businesses inside the city have said they're appreciative.

“The DOT understood the sense of urgency we had here. Everybody came together regionally at the state and local town governments to make sure people know how to get to Milton. That was a nice thing to see,” Schuetz said. “I have heard from local business owners who are appreciative of the signs. People are seeming to acclimate to new routes.”

The city and the Milton Chamber of Commerce also is working on a $30,000 plan to put a new welcome sign at the city's south end, where the bypass swoops east. Schuetz has said the sign could be lighted with an electronic readout that could have alternating messages and driving directions. That sign could be in place next spring, officials said.

Gail Nordlof owns Northleaf Winery and an adjacent bistro and bed and breakfast on Janesville Street in Milton's east-side downtown. Before the bypass, Janesville Street was Highway 26, and thousands of cars passed her shops each day. 

The bulk of Nordlof's customers are destination tourists visiting her winery as a stop off Highway 26. At first, the bypass was a problem for visitors who no longer had a straight shot into Milton.

"When it (the bypass) first went in, there was so much confusion. People would end up in Whitewater and not know how they got there. We'd get dozens of calls a day from people. They'd be on the road, asking, 'How do we get to you now?'” Nordlof said.

Around the time the state put in the directional signs—and a few advertising signs at the Highway 59 interchange Nordlof qualified for—the problems seemed to lessen.

“The signs have seemed to help. We've noticed recently we are getting many fewer calls, fewer 'how do I get there?' questions. It's down to nil. So I guess that's feedback for us,” Nordlof said.

Nordlof said she also posted a driving map and bypass-navigation directions on her business website—something she said many of Milton's 200 small businesses have tried to do.

As a member of the city's tourism committee, Nordlof said her group and the Chamber of Commerce have worked with the city to get new tear-off maps printed for businesses to give to customers.

One side of the map would show updated locations of local businesses, and the other side would show the layout of the bypass and key routes in and out of the city, Nordlof indicated.

Meanwhile, the city continues to work on a three-month traffic study to learn how traffic patterns and driver habits have changed since the bypass was completed earlier this year, and preliminary results will be available in January, Schuetz said.

“In part, we all know these routes are changing, depending on the time of day or week or even the season, for example, with holiday traffic. The results (of the study) will be very telling,” Schuetz said.

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