Jim Leute" />

I-90/39 hearing draws crowd

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Jim Leute
September 20, 2012

— Noise barriers—either on one side of the highway or both—are proposed for an expanded stretch of Interstate 90/39 from Palmer Drive to Highway 26 in Janesville.

That's according to preliminary plans unveiled by the state's Department of Transportation at a public information meeting Wednesday at Marshall Middle School.

Property owners, however, will have the final say when they vote as early as next spring on whether they want the barriers.

The proposed barriers drew the most interest at Wednesday's session, which was attended by a couple of hundred people.

The meeting focused on the central segment of the 45-mile expansion of I-90/39 from the Illinois border to the Beltline in Madison, which is expected to start in 2015 and end in 2021. The project will widen the Interstate from two lanes in each direction to three with the exception of the Avalon Road-Highway 26 stretch, which will grow to four lanes in each direction.

The 13-mile central segment runs from County O in the south to the Rock/Dane county line in the north.

Todd Hertz of KL Engineering, a state consultant on the project, said the segment in Janesville qualifies for the sound barriers. State and federal rules, however, require a vote of adjacent property owners, he said.

Several people in the audience pointed out that if the need for the barriers exists now, it would certainly exist as the highway's capacity increases in coming decades.

"We've been discussing sidewalks in this town for years, and we can't get that figured out," one woman said. "If the barriers are needed, I think you people should just go ahead and do them and not leave it up to us."

Hertz and others said the state's design plans are still preliminary.

At this point, however, they call for barriers on the east side of the Interstate from Palmer Drive to the greenbelt just south of Ruger Avenue and from the Stafford Road/Somerset Drive area north to Highway 14. West-side barriers would run from the Sioux Court area north to the Monroe Elementary School area and from Milwaukee Street to the Highway 14 area.


The segment has four interchanges that will be reconstructed.

The two interchanges with Highway 14 and Highway 26 will be the most challenging, Hertz said. It's likely that the two would be reconstructed as one with collection and distribution roads that offer exits and entries away from the mainline Interstate.

"If you're familiar with the situation in the area of the Interstate interchange with East Washington Avenue in Madison, that's what we're thinking," he said.

The Highway 59 interchange at Newville will be reconstructed under one of two configurations: roundabouts or signals.

Work will start in June and end at about Thanksgiving 2013 on the Highway 11/Racine Street interchange, which will include two roundabouts.


The state also is considering the realignments of Goede, Newville and Kennedy roads where they cross under the Interstate.

"Those bridges are now skewed, and we'd like to straighten the roads underneath them, which would shorten and straighten the Interstate bridges and therefore cut down on construction and maintenance costs," Hertz said.

Alternate routes

Two lanes of travel would be open on the segment during construction, except in cases of night work when travel will be reduced to a single lane in each direction, Hertz said.

The possibility of construction and accident backups prompted the state to look at three alternate routes away from the central segment, he said.

They include:

-- Highway 11/Racine Street east to Highway 14, Highway 14 around Janesville to Highway 51, and Highway 51 north to the Interstate at Highway 73.

That route would continue to be the primary alternative, as it has been for years, Hertz said.

-- Highway 11 west to County H, County H north to Highway 14, Highway 14 east to Highway 51, and Highway 51 north to Highway 73.

-- Highway 11/Racine Street east to Highway 14, Highway 14 north to Harmony Townhall Road, Harmony Townhall to Highway 26, Highway 26 to County N, County N to Highway 59, and Highway 59 to the Interstate at Newville.

Other questions

One man wondered about possible problems with three lanes of traffic merging into the four lanes proposed through Janesville.

The Janesville segment is projected to carry 90,000 vehicles a day by 2040, and those projections are as many as 20,000 vehicles per day less to the north and south of the four-lane segment, Hertz said. That means much of the four-lane stretch will be used by local traffic, motorists traveling from one side of Janesville to the other.

Another man asked whether it would be possible to have the sound barriers erected before construction, which would alleviate expected noise and dust during the project.

That is something the department can consider as it moves toward its final designs, Hertz said.

Others stressed the importance of hiring Wisconsin and Illinois companies to build the road, which is expected to cost more than $1 billion by the time it's finished.

While officials were sympathetic to the concerns, they said bids go to the lowest bidders, and many of those are expected to be state companies.

Finally, one man asked whether any thought was given to building a new Interstate that bypasses Janesville altogether.

Officials answered that one much more directly: No.

Expansion likely means more responsibility for county

The proposed expansion on Interstate 90/39 will affect more than motorists in Rock County.

The expansion to three lanes in each direction—four in Janesville—will require more attention from Rock County, which contracts with the state for snowplowing and maintenance on the 25 miles of I-90/39 that run through the county.

"In the long term, it certainly will have an impact on our public works department," said Craig Knutson, county administrator, noting the expansion of Highway 26 also will demand more county resources.

Wisconsin is the only state that contracts with its individual counties to plow and provide ice control on all state and U.S.-numbered highways, and the Interstate system.

The system was set up more than 85 years ago. Legislative audits show the arrangement is the most cost effective for taxpayers and the safest for motorists.

"In general, the system works phenomenally well," said Daniel Fedderly, executive director of the Wisconsin County Highway Association, a group that works with the state Legislature and Department of Transportation to establish routine maintenance agreements for each of Wisconsin's 72 counties.

"The issue is that funding has flat-lined, and it's been that way for many years," Fedderly said.

Knutson said state policy requires 24/7 attention to the Interstate during snowstorms.

Using a cost accounting system, the state pays the counties on a time and materials system based on equipment and manpower used. County crews do the work and bill the state.

"Going from four lanes to six will increase that cost by 50 percent," Knutson said. "Going to eight lanes in Janesville will double it."

Construction is scheduled to start in 2015 on the entire 45-mile segment, which runs from the Illinois state line to the Beltline in Madison. The state's Department of Transportation hopes to wrap up the project—which is expected to cost more than $1 billion— in 2021.

Historically, the state has contracted with counties for routine maintenance work on the Interstate in the spring, summer and fall—whenever it's not snow season.

But as budgets have tightened, some of that work has tapered off, Fedderly and Knutson said.

"Part of that work is mowing, and we get complaints that things like mowing aren't being done," Knutson said. "They aren't being done because the state is not ordering it to be done."

The loss of non-winter work can create issues for counties, he said, as staff and equipment sit idle.

A significant issue is whether the state is providing enough work for the counties.

"That equipment depreciates all year whether we're using it to earn revenue or not," he said.

The state, Fedderly said, has certain levels of service it wants to meet for state and federal highways. For several years, however, state funding has been running at least $50 million short of meeting that level of service, he said.

"When you have that significant of a shortfall, everything largely gets driven toward winter activity, and there are certain levels of service expected there," he said. "The county gears up for that with equipment and manpower."

Without significant funding, the DOT often restricts activities such as mowing, pothole patching and shoulder maintenance, Fedderly said.

"The issue for the county is that it has people and equipment year round, and the county then has to find things for them to do," he said. "Most counties have budget issues of their own, and there are legitimate needs not being met because the funding isn't there."

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