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Officials plan talks on Milton interchange idea

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
September 3, 2010
— As lobbying efforts continue for a plan that would expand Interstate 90/39 between the Madison and the Illinois/Wisconsin state line, some area officials are working to add a detail: an interchange west of Milton.

This week, Milton Alderman Brett Frazier said he’s been in talks with state Rep. Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater, and the lawmaker is trying to spark a conversation with the state Department of Transportation over whether an interchange at County M would be viable.


Frazier said Hixson has invited Milton city officials to meet with DOT officials in Madison, perhaps within the next month.


“My hope is that we can move quickly enough that our project can be a part of the initial enumeration of the (proposed I-90/39 expansion) project,” Frazier said in an email.


The city of Milton has not formally discussed the interchange idea, and it would have to be written into the larger, Interstate expansion plan—a $1 billion project that has not yet been approved.


The Gazette couldn’t reach Rep. Hixson for comment about his current role in lobbying for a Milton interchange.


But Hixson has been a supporter of the I-90/39 expansion, and earlier this year trumpeted the idea of an interchange at Milton. He said it would improve commute times and emergency access at the Interstate and could boost local economic development.


Milton sits two miles east of an eight-mile stretch of I-39/90 between Janesville and Newville that has no exits.


The crossroad that would accommodate the interchange, County M, is the western extension of West Madison Avenue and functions as one of the city’s main streets.


The city’s comprehensive land use plan categorizes several large properties near County M and adjacent to the Interstate as “urban reserve” and lists the properties’ possible future use as “industrial.”


The properties are mostly large farm parcels and are located in the town of Milton.


Top officials with the city of Milton and the town of Milton are taking a tempered approach to the idea of an interchange at Milton.


In an interview this week on WCLO Radio, City Administrator Todd Schmidt said the city would be interested in a County M interchange because it would fit into the city’s long term goals for industrial development on Milton’s west end.


But in the same interview, Schmidt noted that trends in Interstate development would seem to work against an interchange being built west of Milton.


“I’ve heard it said before that federal and state officials are more interested in removing Interstate interchanges rather than adding them, simply because of the safety factor,” Schmidt said.


Schmidt said Rep. Hixson has told city staff he plans to discuss a Milton interchange with state transportation officials “sometime within the next three weeks” and has invited city staff to join the discussion.


Schmidt said outside of contact with Hixson’s office, “there has been no serious formal discussion by city staff or by city officials” on a possible interchange at Milton.


“The city of Milton hasn’t been pushing the subject,” he said.


Schmidt said ultimately there would have to be developer interest to drive any future efforts by the city to change land use near the Interstate.


“The city’s not gong to annex its way out to the Interstate just because there’s an interchange coming,” he said.


Milton Town Board Chairman Bryan Meyer said Hixson’s office has contacted town officials about the possible interchange. Meyer said he’s aware an interchange would suit the city’s development plans, but he indicated that town officials are indifferent to the idea.


“For the town’s perspective, I don’t see any immediate benefits. I don’t know that there’s any negatives either,” Meyer said. “With our own comprehensive land use (plan), the town looked at transportation needs over the last three years, and we didn’t identify a need for it (an interchange).”


Any new interchange at I-90/39 would require an Interstate justification report, which would have to be approved by the state Department of Transportation and the federal Highway Administration. The cost of such a study is unclear, and it’s also unclear who would be willing to pay for it.


“We’d need to nail down what the cost would be,” Frazier said. “But the first step would be to have a sit-down with the city council and the DOT. We have to start with a conversation.”



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