First step in highway makeover starts next month

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Stacy Vogel
April 12, 2009
— The Wisconsin Department of Transportation next month will take the first step to move Highway 59 and Highway 26 around Milton, a five-year project causing optimism and some concern among Milton officials.

Construction to move Highway 59 a quarter-mile south between St. Mary Street and Vickerman Road will start the first week of May, project manager Tom Wickus said.

The move is part of a $400 million upgrade to Highway 26 between Janesville and Watertown that will change the face of Milton’s east side.

The project eventually will turn Highway 26 into a four-lane highway with few intersections. Most of the roads now connecting to the highway will become overpasses or underpasses, and the highway will be redirected around Milton instead of cutting across the edge of the city as it does now.

By the end of the project, around 2014, the intersection of highways 26 and 59 will form a major interchange southeast of its present location.

Milton officials have said the new interchange will create a “grand entryway” into Milton. An architectural drawing created a couple of years ago shows decorative streetlights, meadows, median plants and ornamental trees around the bypass.

But with the change comes some concern.

Mayor-elect Tom Chesmore said at a candidate forum that he worries the Highway 26 bypass could cause Milton to get passed over. City council candidates echoed his concern.

“You see so many cities that get bypassed, and certain parts of the city begin to die off because the people, the volume isn’t there anymore,” Chesmore said.

That’s why it’s important to attract businesses near the new bypass that will draw traffic into Milton and its existing businesses, he said.

Outgoing Mayor Nate Bruce expressed optimism about the project during the campaign. He said he’d like to see an upscale restaurant, hotel and meeting center locate near the interchange, ideally planned by a single developer.

The highway moves also will open up more space in the city’s industrial park. Administrator Todd Schmidt has said the changes will attract businesses seeking easy highway access.

Some changes will appear sooner than others. Though the Highway 26 upgrade won’t start until 2011 or 2012, three roundabouts and a second set of stoplights will go in this summer, Wickus said.

Construction on the first phase is scheduled to wrap up Nov. 13, project engineer Tara Weiss said. Most of the work will take place on the new portion of highway, so residents won’t notice much difference on the existing Highway 59, she said.

“It’s got a limited impact,” she said.

About the project

The first step toward a major change in Milton’s layout shouldn’t cause much hassle for residents when it gets underway next month, state Department of Transportation officials said.

The first phase of a Highway 26 upgrade in Milton will start the first week of May, project manager Tom Wickus said. The state Department of Transportation will move Highway 59 between Vickerman Road and St. Mary Street about a quarter-mile south.

The move will prepare the area for a new Highway 26/Highway 59 interchange southeast of the existing intersection. The state decided to move Highway 59 away from the train tracks to create more room for interchange ramps, project engineer Tara Weiss said.

In 2011 or 2012, the state will start directing Highway 26 around Milton by moving the portion of Highway 26 between Milton-Harmony Town Line Road and the Rock-Jefferson county line east of the existing highway, Wickus said.

The highway will be expanded to four lanes between Janesville and Watertown, and most roads now connecting to the highway will become overpasses or underpasses.

Highway 59 construction should wrap up around Nov. 13, 2009, Weiss said. Most of the work will take place on the new section of road, so drivers will notice little difference on the existing road, she said.

Toward the end of construction, there will be lane and shoulder closures on the existing portion, she said.

The old portion of Highway 59 will remain open after the new portion is complete, Wickus said. The traffic lights at the existing 59/26 intersection will remain, and a second set of lights will be installed where the new Highway 59 intersects the existing Highway 26.

Crews also will install three roundabouts this summer in preparation for the expanded Highway 26. One eventually will become an onramp from Highway 59 to the upgraded Highway 26, one will become an off-ramp, and one will guide drivers through the intersection of the new Highway 59 and County M, Weiss said.

Work from Milton bypass to Fort Atkinson should be complete by 2014.

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