Janesville bike tunnel torpedoed

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Friday, June 25, 2010

The Janesville City Council at a Thursday study session deep-sixed an approved bike tunnel on East Milwaukee Street, and one council member who had originally favored it said the cost of more than $720,000 had become prohibitive.

George Brunner voted for the tunnel when the cost was lower, and he still believes it is the safest route to go.

“But the idea of a tunnel has really become cost-prohibitive,” he said. “It’s just a matter of having more information, a more realistic idea of the cost, which makes you re-evaluate,” he said.

Instead, the council approved a three-part option to slow traffic by reducing two travel lanes, building an island refuge and installing LED flashing lights at a cost of $99,500.

Former City Manager Steve Sheiffer put $160,000 for the tunnel in the 2006 budget. Of that, $117,000 remains.

By the time the council approved the tunnel in 2008 on 4 to 3 vote, the cost had ballooned to $670,000. The state promised a grant of $235,000. The new cost for the tunnel is $720,000, not including additional utilities work.

The tunnel was to be built at a mid-block trail crossing between Shannon Drive and Wright Road. No pedestrian accidents have occurred, but some residents have reported near misses.

Some residents were angry at the cost of the tunnel and didn’t believe it was needed.

Councilman Tom McDonald was the only council member Thursday who said he would still vote for a tunnel. He said he is OK with the latest option, as well.

The council agreed to:

-- Reduce the four lanes of traffic from Wright Road to Highway 14 to two lanes, two bike lanes and a center-turn lane. That should slow traffic.

-- Build a center island pedestrian refuge so residents only need to worry about traffic coming from one direction at a time. Now, a driver in one lane might stop but not the driver in the adjacent lane.

-- Install flashing LED lights. The new lights have a compliance rate of 80 to 97 percent, compared to 20 percent for the current conventional system.

Councilman Yuri Rashkin asked that the city continue to investigate whether the city can still use the grant money, even though it was given specifically for the tunnel.

Councilman Frank Perrotto wants to see a combination of warning systems used, including one in which LED lights are embedded in the road.

He asked that the city research that system as well as a system that can sense pedestrians and bring the information back to the council when it votes on the issue later in the summer.

“My deepest concern is that a button may not work for kids,” he said.

Perrotto said more warning systems would negate the need to reduce the driving lanes.

“I’m concerned that we might be trying to make too much of this project when it’s rather a more simple fix,” he said.

Reducing the lanes complements a roundabout that will be built farther east at the intersection of Wuthering Hills Drive and East Milwaukee Street, Manager Eric Levitt said.

McDonald and the three other council members present approved reducing the driving lanes and the new LED system.

“Every expert we’ve ever had look at this seems to question the four lanes on Milwaukee Street to begin with,” McDonald said.

The changes could be in place by the end of the year.

“We could begin to enjoy the benefits of this very soon in comparison to a tunnel project,” Carl Weber, public works director, said.

Council members Russ Steeber and Bill Truman were absent.

Last updated: 1:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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