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Officials seek to help 'dead-ended' business

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Neil Johnson
August 31, 2012

— A state lawmaker vows he'll go straight to the governor's office to help a Milton businessman whose access to traveling customers would be cut off by the Highway 26 bypass.

Milton Mobile Travel Center owner Amin Shaikh issued an appeal during a meeting with state Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, and officials from the city of Milton and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation at his gas station Thursday.

"I cannot go on in this big elephant without traffic," Shaikh said.

Shaikh owns a gas station convenience store and a McDonald's restaurant on the northwest corner of Arthur Drive and Highway 26 on Milton's south side.

The DOT's plans for the Highway 26 expansion through Milton show the bypass veering southeast of Shaikh's gas station and cutting a mile east around Milton.

The current Highway 26 will end just north of Shaikh's business. Arthur Drive will link an overpass at Henke Road with Townline Road, but neither Henke Road nor Townline Road would have direct entry or exit at Highway 26.

The bottom line: The new route of Highway 26 will cause 16,000 vehicles a day to skirt around Shaikh's gas station with no direct access to the business.

"I'm a gas station and a convenience store, and now there is no convenience. There will be no traffic. How will I survive? My demise is confirmed," Shaikh told The Gazette.

Shaikh urged the DOT Thursday to consider adding another interchange or frontage access, possibly at the reconfigured Townline Road just to the south, so travelers on Highway 26 could more easily reach his gas station.

The message got through to Wynn.

Wynn told DOT officials at the meeting Thursday that he planned to schedule talks next week with Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb to try to find a solution for Shaikh.

"I truly believe if at the public meetings when they were deciding this (bypass), if somebody said, 'By the way, we're going to take down a million dollars of Milton's tax base if we don't put an interchange here,' we'd probably have a different map right now," Wynn said.

The Gazette reported in May that DOT plans for the bypass would cut off the gas station from the main flow of traffic on Highway 26.

Shaikh said he'd gone to DOT informational meetings on the bypass this year, but he didn't realize the extent to which his business would be cut off from traffic. He said no one through the DOT or the city of Milton told him.

"It's when I saw them digging for the new road right out of the window of the gas station that I noticed—hey, how in the world are you going to connect that road to me? Then I realized. You don't. They dead-ended me," Shaikh told The Gazette.

Design plans for the Milton portion of the bypass were approved in 2005, Wisconsin DOT Regional Director Joe Olson said at the meeting.

But work on the bypass is more than a year from completion. Construction crews are now laying roadbeds for the bypass and working on overpasses for the crossroads of Harmony-Town Hall Road, Townline Road and Henke Road, which will create a system of interchanges along the expansion of Highway 26 in Milton.

Wynn did not make it clear what changes he'd suggest to top state officials, but Shaikh said he needs some kind of direct link to the bypass.

Shaikh said gas station owners in Jefferson, where the state has completed a bypass of Highway 26, have told him they've lost 60 percent of their customer base.

Olson told Shaikh and others Thursday that there's still time for officials to consider potential changes to the highway expansion, but he cautioned that state rules for rural highways usually don't allow exits and interchanges to be closer than two miles apart.

He suggested an interchange in the vicinity of Shaikh's gas station would place exits too close and could create veering hazards, two problems the DOT was trying to alleviate by constructing the bypass.

Shaikh's gas station was built in 1998. Shaikh has owned it since 2002. He said he has invested nearly $2 million to add a McDonald's, a car wash and a beer cooler.

He estimates the station has averaged sales of at least 100,000 gallons of gasoline a month for the last five years. He said it has generated at least $1 million a year in tax revenue despite business tapering off since the Janesville GM plant idled in 2009.

"I have been proud to be a flagship in this city," Shaikh said.

City Administrator Jerry Schuetz and other city officials at the meeting, including Alderman Brett Frazier and officials from the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, said the city is not viewing the Highway 26 bypass as a death knell for businesses.

City officials said they plan to continue working on strategies for businesses, including plans for signs for businesses such as Shaikh's.

Frazier urged Wynn to push future legislation that would require the DOT to do economic impact studies for any businesses with direct access to highways that would see reconstruction.



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