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Our Views: Milton, state should strike deal to boost development

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March 4, 2014

With the Highway 26 bypass open, Milton officials are trying to lure a development to the adjacent Crossroads Business Park.

Trouble is, they're sparring with state transportation officials over construction of a road to access Highway 59. The two sides are pointing fingers.

Here's hoping the parties can forge a compromise that's acceptable to all involved.

The bypass has forever altered Milton's climate of commerce. Some 16,000 motorists now skirt the city each day rather than drive through it. Many store and restaurant owners sense they're “out of sight, out of mind.” Merchants want the city to improve bypass signs to point drivers their way. An advisory panel of business owners hopes to create a vision to bridge the mile separating Milton's two downtown business districts.

As Milton officials braced for this altered business landscape, state Department of Transportation officials suggested the bypass would be ripe for economic development. That won't happen easily if each prospect hits a connector street roadblock.

Mayor Brett Frazier said the latest development proposal—the nature of which the city has yet to announce—was far enough along that a planned access drive off Chicago Street was really “the last T to be crossed.” Now, however, the city has learned the street likely won't meet state criteria for highway “access control.”

Because plans don't include new access spots on Highway 59, access to side streets is crucial to developing the whole corridor.

“We're curious to see how the DOT plans to cooperate now because this is about not just one project, but it's a sign for (the) future of development along a whole corridor that's now the entryway to our city,” Frazier said last week.

Joe Olson, DOT southwest region director, told The Gazette that the agency's access management plan for Highway 59 is based on state laws. The goal, he says, is to limit access where practical to protect the pace and flow of traffic as developments occur along corridors such as Highway 59 in Milton.

That sounds reasonable. After all, no one wants to see vehicles backed up trying to get through an intersection such as happens too often on Janesville's frontage roads adjacent to busy Milton Avenue. Right now, Janesville officials are exploring ways to improve traffic flow at Milton Avenue and Lodge Drive as Panera Bread plans to open nearby this year.

It's understandable that the state wants to limit accesses to highways. For example, the many access points on Highway 14 east of Emerald Grove pose risks for commuters and truckers.

If access streets are built in ways that lead to traffic snarls as more and more merchants or industries open in a given area, it's not good for business.

Milton residents might wonder how this latest business proposal that Frazier pegged at between $2 million and $3 million got so far along without the state getting detailed plans. Yet residents can sympathize with city officials being eager to pave the way for a project that could boost property tax revenues.

State and local officials might sit down to discuss the plan this week. Residents should hope they can craft a deal that satisfies not just this developer but the needs of those yet to come.



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