Residents: Milton needs another exit off bypass
MILTON—When you ask Milton residents for their thoughts on the Highway 26 bypass, expect a gully washer of frustration and desperation.
That's what Rep. Andy Jorgensen and Sen. Tim Cullen learned at a listening session Tuesday night at The Gathering Place, 715 Campus St.
Jorgensen and Cullen had called the session in part to probe residents on a potential Business Highway 26 route the two are brokering between the city, the state Department of Transportation, and town and county officials.
Flanked by three DOT officials, Jorgensen and Cullen tried to lay out a plan they say would direct people downtown using exits at Highway 59 and County N to create a loop along Janesville Street.
Cullen, Jorgensen and the DOT officials faced a barrage of comments from about 35 residents and business owners, including some who said the business route is not enough.
About a half-dozen residents said they want additional exit signs and an additional exit along the bypass on the city's south end.
They said people coming north from Janesville on Highway 26 are their main customer base, and the bypass cuts those people off from Milton. The bypass swings a mile east of the city and doesn't offer a direct path into town for the thousands of cars that pass a day.
“When you cut off that road, you cut off our bloodline. From Janesville, we were kind of the cute little town—now we're a big problem.” said Laura Sykora, owner of a beauty salon on Milton's east side.
Sykora said some businesses have lost at least 20 percent of customers in the nine months the bypass has been open.
It's not the first time residents have asked the DOT to consider an extra exit on the south side, where the bypass veers off and Janesville Street becomes a dead end. The city in 2012 and 2013 asked the state about a potential exit there, but the DOT said plans for the bypass were already funded, vetted and etched in stone.
DOT Southwest Region Deputy Director Dave Vieth told residents Tuesday that the DOT ruled out an additional exit on the south end during environmental reviews and land acquisition talks during planning stages years ago.
He said it was unlikely the DOT now could place another exit on the south side.
Vieth, who has been the region's deputy director just three months, said one of the “important purposes” of the bypass was to pull non-local traffic out of Milton.
He said the department “just got done spending a lot of money to fix Highway 26” to create a corridor that ties together other communities.
Vieth instead pointed to the proposed business route, which he said could be a more immediate solution to help travelers find downtown Milton.
The planned business route would have signs leading up to the Highway 59/26 bypass interchange and the bypass/County N interchange that points motorists to Milton and a Business Highway 26 route.
The plan has the support of the DOT, the city and Rock County, but it also needs approval from the town of Milton.
Milton Town Board Chairman Bryan Meyer said he was in talks Tuesday with Milton City Administrator Jerry Schuetz about the business route. Town officials have said they're hesitant to agree to the plan.
Officials fear potential future repair costs to the town's stretch of Janesville Street. The stretch is paved in concrete, and it is being turned over by the state to the town after the DOT repairs parts of it this summer, officials said.
Leslie Hammer, who owns Hammer Chiropractic on Milton's east side, pressed Jorgensen, Cullen and the DOT to consider adding an exit sign on the south side at the Harmony Town Hall Road exit. The road links with Parkview Drive, which runs north into Milton.
Traffic along Harmony Town Hall and Parkview Drive has seen a 130-percent rise in traffic since the bypass opened, city officials say.
Hammer and others said people take Harmony Town Hall into Milton because they find the Highway 59 exit and its roundabouts “inconvenient.”
DOT Engineering specialist Iver Peterson said Harmony Town Hall is not a good road to designate as a Milton exit or part of a business route because it goes through a residential area. He called the route “convoluted” and said it “doesn't directly tie in” for any travel except for locals.
Vieth and Peterson suggested that while the DOT and local officials work through a potential business route, the DOT could help with a public awareness campaign to change the “perception” that the bypass makes it inconvenient for people to get into Milton.
Jorgensen thanked residents who sounded off, telling them their input was part of a goal to create a “better bypass.”
“It is a work in progress,” he said. “This isn't the end of it. We're going to change some of this. It's going to take some time.”