Milton mayor: DOT highway access rules are blocking $5 million in development

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Neil Johnson
Thursday, April 10, 2014

MILTON—Milton officials are trying to sway the state Department of Transportation after the agency placed hurdles in the way of a multimillion dollar development on the east side, saying a driveway onto Chicago Street would be too close to Highway 59.

Milton Mayor Brett Frazier said he and city staff will meet May 1 with DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb to make a second pitch for access drives along Chicago Street. A developer said the drives are vital to siting what Frazier called a $2 million "retail service and restaurant business."

The DOT refused last month to sign off on the location of one of the access drives. DOT engineers said the drive, one of two planned at the development proposed in the city's Crossroads Business Park, would be too close to Highway 59 based on state highway access laws.

Frazier said the developer and the city had nearly sealed an agreement on the project last month, but the DOT's resistance has essentially stopped the deal.

“We'd have a development that would be going right now, a substantial one, if this access thing wasn't an issue,” Frazier said.

The project, the details of which haven't been announced, would add $2 million in tax revenue to city coffers because it would not be a tax increment financed project, Frazier said.

It's not the only development prospect along the new Highway 59/Highway 26 bypass corridor that's cooled in the wake of DOT resistance on access.

Frazier said a $3 million health clinic is on ice while developers wait to see whether the DOT will relax its highway access rules. That development would not be in a TIF district, either, meaning it would funnel tax revenue into the city immediately, Frazier said.

“This access issue is truly something that could be standing in the way of $5 million in economic development that this community needs. It's no small thing,” Frazier said.

City traffic patterns have begun to shift with as many as 16,000 vehicles a day now taking the bypass. The city is trying to focus on developing the bypass corridor, which the DOT touted as an economic development benefit at a time when businesses in the city fear loss of consumer traffic.

The DOT has denied a city request to waive its access requirements for the proposed service and restaurant business.

DOT officials told The Gazette that new roads such as the Highway 59/Highway 26 bypass corridor by state statute must have access limitations at crossroads. The statutes mean developers cannot locate business entrances on side roads within 500 feet of highways designated for traffic that does not stop.

A business with an entrance or exit too close to Highway 59 could cause through traffic to clog as customers get on or off the highway at the side road, state DOT Southwest Region Director Joe Olson told The Gazette in February.

He said that kind of pileup in traffic could make the whole corridor less safe and less attractive to motorists, and, potentially, other developers.

He suggested the city complete a detailed traffic and project study to justify looser restrictions on access.

Frazier said the DOT has suggested other solutions to would fix the problem, such as putting an entrance on an adjacent road in a spot not quite so close to Highway 59.

Frazier said the developer seems unwilling to make such a compromise.

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