Milton wants its main drag back

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

MILTON—Milton Mayor Brett Frazier wants public input before he makes a pitch to the the state Department of Transportation to turn Janesville Street into Business 26 in the wake of the Highway 26 bypass.

Frazier said local businesses continue to spout evidence that the bypass is causing commerce there to dry up. The bypass opened last fall and swept 16,000 cars a day out of Milton's eastside downtown.

Travelers still point out that there's no direct access to Milton's interior and complain about the lack of signs pointing drivers to Milton at key bypass interchanges, making it confusing, inconvenient and difficult to get into town, Frazier said.

The city continues asking the state Department of Transportation to place more signs along key bypass exits to direct drivers into Milton, but Frazier also is considering a plea to the DOT for some kind of exit at the southeast end of the city near Arthur Drive.

Frazier said an exit and signs there could give drivers a “choice” of whether to swing around the city on the bypass or go directly into Milton's eastside business district.

It would allow drivers to "bypass" the bypass if they wanted to go straight into Milton, he said.

The south end of Janesville Street, which used to carry Highway 26 through Milton, is cut off from the bypass.

The DOT designed roundabout interchanges at Highway 59 as the main bypass exits for travelers to go into Milton.

Instead, “there's been a 130 percent increase in traffic on some side roads and side streets, like Parkview Drive and John Paul Road, because many people don't want to go in the city on the Highway 59 interchange,” Frazier said.

The city had first approached the DOT in 2013 about Janesville Street being cut off.

“We talked about that last year when we found out that the Mobil station was being cut off. We talked with the DOT about that at a minimum the option of folks being able to stay on Highway 26 or veer off into Milton before the bypass,” Frazier said. “The state had issues that the bypass project had reached too great a state of completion for changes like that.”

Frazier scheduled a listening session next week to get input from downtown business owners and residents on how the lack of a clear link between the bypass and Janesville Street is affecting businesses and driver access in the eastside downtown. 

“I'll be asking the chamber to coordinate a list of business owners who are in favor of some sort of action to restore more access to our businesses, the Goodrich Square (eastside downtown) businesses specifically,” Frazier said.

Frazier said he'd then request a meeting with DOT officials on changes along the corridor, whether it be more signs or an access road off the bypass.

Frazier has the blessing of both the city council and the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, but he wants to be sure local stakeholders have input in any pitches he'd make to the DOT.

“I want to make sure we understand the problems, the potential solutions and any unintentional results of those solutions before wasting anyone's time," Frazier said.

City Administrator Jerry Schuetz is calling the cutoff between the bypass and Janesville Street a “design flaw” by the DOT—a glitch that's become more glaring now that downtown businesses are feeling the bite of less traffic and fewer customers.

“Now we're hearing post-bypass impact discussion from our business folks. One could make a compelling argument that business routes were continued in other bypass projects,” Schuetz said. “We want to express (to the DOT) that it's a business concern. You did them (business routes linked with bypasses) in Jefferson, Whitewater and Fort Atkinson. Why not in Milton?” Schuetz said.

Despite the uptick in traffic on side streets, some of the more than 50 businesses in Milton's eastside downtown have been complaining of falloff—or at best, inconsistency—in business since the bypass opened last fall.

“One day, we'll get $160 in customer traffic, another day, we'll get $400. There's no rhyme or reason to it at all. But it's been that way since the bypass. It's not good, and it's frustrating,” said Bill Drew, owner of Charming B's, a coffee and sandwich shop located in a former church just off Janesville and High Streets in Milton's eastside downtown.

The city did not fulfill a request from The Gazette for data comparing pre-bypass and post-bypass traffic counts along Janesville Street and the city's east and west downtowns.

Traffic on Janesville Street is down, according to a traffic count taken last year, Schuetz said.

Schuetz said the DOT has said it could take 18 months for drivers to acclimate to the bypass. He said that's a long time for businesses already struggling.

“The mayor and city staff does not want to have those business suffer the negative impositions of that bypass for a year and a half or longer. They might not be able to make it that long without help, whether that's directional signs, or, potentially, exits,” Schuetz said.

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