Anyone want a park-and-ride?

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Neil Johnson
Friday, September 6, 2013

NEWVILLE—The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is planning three potential park-and-ride lots along the Interstate 90/39 corridor, but it's still fishing for someone to maintain the lots, a DOT official said.

DOT project engineer Derek Potter said the department has approached Rock County with a potential agreement for the county to maintain at least one of the park and rides the DOT could build—a 40-to-60-stall lot at the Highway 59/I-90/39 interchange at Newville.

The lot, as well as potential park-and-ride lots at the Interstate 43/I-90/39 interchange in Beloit and the I-90/39/Racine Street interchange on Janesville's south side, would be developed as part of the planned I-90/39 expansion between Madison and Beloit, a project slated to start in 2015.

But Rock County officials are hesitant to volunteer to maintain a public parking lot at Newville, particularly during snowy stretches of winter, Rock County Highway Commissioner Ben Coopman said this week.

“The county has expressed a lack of interest in doing that not because we're not willing to, but because of priorities,” Coopman said. 

Coopman said salting, plowing and shoveling a public park-and-ride at the county's north end would be a low-level priority for the county's highway division. He also says it would be difficult or impossible to wedge the highway division's large equipment into a small parking lot.

“Number one is that we don't have the staff to take care of that kind of facility when we have snow storms going on, our people are needed on the main highways,” Coopman said. “Number two, the configuration of the lots is so small, with narrow aisles and the like, that we can't get in there with our type of equipment."

The lots would be used mainly for commuters who carpool or take ride-sharing transit to Madison, or travelers taking bus transit to Milwaukee or Chicago, officials say.

While the DOT pays for construction of park-and-ride lots, the agency typically forges agreements with local governments for maintenance, including snow removal, mowing and even light bills for parking lots, rest stops and waysides. Those agencies then handle maintenance from their own budgets and bill the state for time and materials, officials said.

“I don't know, as far as their equipment working or fitting there," Potter said. "It's a parking lot. I know for most of them (local governments), it's budget concerns and it's just another cost."

Coopman said the county used to handle some maintenance duties at the I-39/90 rest stops near Beloit and along the Interstate north of Janesville, but county crews' work in those areas now is limited to one pass with a snowplow through main access roads, often only once every eight hours during heavy snows.

The DOT now contracts out to private companies for other maintenance at those waysides, Coopman said.

The county's reluctance to agree to maintain the Newville park-and-ride does not mean the DOT will scrap plans for park-and-rides along the Interstate corridor, Potter said.

He said the DOT would include potential park-and-ride lots in ongoing plans for the Interstate expansion.

The lots would be built late in construction of the expansion, Potter said, so there's time for ongoing negotiations with other municipal governments such as the towns of Milton and Fulton, or even the cities of Edgerton or Milton, he said.

As of now, Rock County is the only entity that conducts winter maintenance in Newville.

“Up in Newville, there aren't a lot of options," Coopman said. "We maintain (town of) Milton and (town of) Fulton roads. We're the only show in town."

Meanwhile, along with the Newville lot, the DOT is eyeing potential spots for two other park-and-ride lots.

A potential lot in Beloit would be located at the southwest corner of the 1-43/I-39/90, interchange, and it likely would fall under county jurisdiction because it would be on a right-of-way, Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said.

Arft said although Beloit, wouldn't handle maintenance, the city supports a park-and-ride in Beloit because commuters and travelers routinely park in lots near the interchange.

Janesville also has an enclave of park-and-ride users. A de-facto park-and-ride lot now runs from the K-Mart parking lot on Milton Avenue. Potter said the DOT looked into locating a park-and-ride near the Highway 26/I-90/39 interchange, but there are few land options.

That has prompted the DOT to look at the Racine Street interchange in Janesville as a potential spot for a park-and-ride.

“That's not in current (DOT) plans, but there could be a potential one there," Potter said. "We're now talking with the city of Janesville about it."

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