Milton businesses seek more direction signs along bypass

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Neil Johnson
Thursday, April 17, 2014

MILTON—Milton business owners and residents are telling the city it must place more signs to tell travelers using the Highway 26 bypass that they're approaching Milton.

That might mean placing huge signs on the 175-foot-tall Cargill building, which sits along the bypass and Highway 59 on the city's east side.

Signs on Cargill could be one solution, and the option has come up in talks between the city and Cargill, Mayor Brett Frazier and City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said.

That tidbit came out of a public listening session the mayor held Thursday. He was seeking input on how to put businesses on the eastside downtown back on the map for bypass travelers.

The Milton Highway 26 bypass, which opened last fall, has lived up to the state Department of Transportation's hype. As the DOT promised, the bypass has peeled away the vast bulk of through traffic from the eastside downtown—thousands of semitrailer trucks and other vehicles each day. That traffic has been sent a mile east around the city.

City officials say they have only recently seen the impact to businesses caused by the lack of a direct route from Highway 26 onto Janesville Street, the former main drag on the city's east side. The bypass essentially cuts off traffic from it.

“I'm not going to sugar-coat it,” Frazier told the 30 people who attended the session Thursday. “There is a pretty high hill to climb to get anything like business access coming from Janesville and Fort Atkinson.”

He told the people it's going to take the city and the DOT years of working together to potentially re-engineer or re-envision a road that re-links Highway 26 to Janesville Street.

The cost alone for a side road would total $3 million or more, some city officials estimate.

“All we can do the next couple of weeks is signage,” Frazier said.

Where the bypass splits off at County N north of town, a DOT sign points to Whitewater and Edgerton, but not Milton.

Andrea Whieland, who manages Oak Ridge Golf, which is off Janesville Street on the city's north said, said she has had people from north of Milton get on the bypass and miss the golf course entirely.

“They call us from Janesville after driving past us from Fort Atkinson. They say they can't find the golf course,” Whieland said.

Those same travelers would also miss every business south of the golf course, along Janesville Street.

On the city's southeast end, where local commuters who seek to avoid taking the bypass north to Highway 59 must zigzag off Highway 26 onto Harmony-Town Hall Road and then take Parkview Drive into town.

One sign the DOT placed near Parkview Drive pointed drivers to “Lake Street”—a street that doesn't even exist in Milton. That sign is now gone.

Frazier and Schuetz said their hands have been tied by state DOT sign regulations, and in seven months, the state has only placed six or seven Milton signs along the bypass, mostly right where the bypass links with Highway 59 east of the city.

Some additional signs would need to be on pylons 30 feet tall for drivers to see them because the bypass actually rises above the city, Schuetz said.

Hammer Chiropractic owner Leslie Hammer, whose business is on the south side off Janesville Street, has taken matters into her own hands. She's paid for billboard signs along Highway 26 that point drivers off the bypass to her business.

That's an idea Schuetz said he and Frazier are discussing. People at the meeting said they'd support Schuetz approaching the city council on a billboard campaign to point drivers into Milton. The signs would likely need to be placed on private or city-owned land, Schuetz indicated.

Schuetz said a “Milton, Get Here This Way” billboard campaign could cost $10,000 on the low end, and could be a short-term solution while the city works with the DOT on permanent signs and potentially, a better way to access Milton from the bypass.

Frazier told The Gazette that he plans next to ask the Milton Chamber of Commerce to compile data on how eastside businesses have been affected by the bypass. The city could share that information with the DOT.

“We can start with the DOT on the signs next week, but the rest of the conversation will be a longer haul,” he said.

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