The work to replace much of West Milwaukee Street—including new water mains, a new street surface, and new curbs, gutters and sidewalks—isn’t scheduled to begin until April 2021.
But area business operators, building owners and some residents who live nearby had questions—and suggestions for possible tweaks—on plan designs a consultant showed Tuesday at Janesville City Hall.
Before a public forum the city held with project designer, MSA Professional Services, multiple residents asked city and MSA officials for more information about several proposed “tabletop” intersections that are part of the project.
According to designs on display Tuesday, the $5.1 million, mostly federally funded project includes removal of traffic signals where Milwaukee Street intersects Academy, Jackson and River streets. Those signals would be replaced by raised “tabletops” of pavement that would gradually rise 4 to 5 inches over a span of 7 feet. The raised pavement would force traffic to slow down before going through the intersection, said Brian Huibregtse, a design engineer for MSA.
He said traffic volumes on West Milwaukee Street are low enough that four-way stoplights are unnecessary and that the cost of upgrading or even maintaining them is “not warranted.”
The change would give motorists on West Milwaukee Street the right of way with two-way stops at the cross streets and make the street a more “pedestrian-friendly” environment.
Huibregtse didn’t call the raised intersections “bumps” or “speed bumps.” In one response to a resident’s questions, he referred to them instead as “‘umps.”
The project’s designers said similar tabletop intersections along parts of Monroe Street in Madison have been shown to slow traffic. Enforcement of speed limits along a street helps make raised intersections more effective, they said.
Betty Gilbert, a resident who lives in senior citizen apartments just north of West Milwaukee Street, said she didn’t like the idea of “‘umps” replacing stoplights.
Gilbert said she is one of many people who live in her apartment complex who walk to and from shops on West Milwaukee Street. Gilbert is worried people would drive too fast through the intersections with no signals and that motorists wouldn’t see pedestrians.
“People say not every senior citizen should be driving a car, but this? I don’t think it’d be safe for them to walk,” Gilbert said.
Others at the forum wanted to know details about the project timeline and how the work might affect downtown businesses.
Here are some other questions residents asked, along with answers provided by MSA officials and city engineering officials:
Q: When will work start, and what impact will it have on traffic and access to businesses?
A: MSA project engineers Chad Wagner and Huibregtse said work would start in April 2021 and that it would take between six and seven months. Contractors would begin with the section of West Milwaukee Street between River and Jackson streets. That phase would take 12 to 14 weeks and would include removal and replacement of water mains, a new street surface, and new intersections, curbs, gutters and sidewalks. This would include intersection “bumpouts” with planters, bike racks and benches. During most of the work, the stretch of Milwaukee Street would be closed to traffic.
The second leg of the project, which would take about 14 to 16 weeks, would run from Jackson Street to Five Points. The work done would be similar to that on the eastern segment and would close the street to traffic.
During both phases of the project, Main Street and Centerway would be used as a detour. Wagner and Huibregtse said contractors would work to keep at least one cross street at West Milwaukee Street open at all times.
Q: How will contractors coordinate with businesses on street and sidewalk closures?
A: The designers said nearby businesses would get regular updates sent to them, and owners would get notice of planned sidewalk closures 48 to 72 hours before work begins. The project will be overseen by the state Department of Transportation, but the state and the contractor won’t take an active role in helping businesses along the corridor plan marketing or logistical strategies during closures. That sort of planning would be left to downtown business groups, Huibregtse said.
Q: What about project delays (The Milwaukee Street bridge replacement is running months behind schedule)? Would contractors face sanctions if the project runs into delays?
A: City engineer Matt McGrath said a standard street project isn’t as complex as a structure being built “over a river” and is less likely to run into months of delays. If the project did have delays, the state Department of Transportation could impose a “liquidated damages” fee—a penalty charged to the contractor each day the project runs past an agreed completion date. The fee would offset overrun costs on the project.
Rock County is likely suffering from an increase in opioid overdoses for the same reasons Milwaukee and Dane counties are—a “bad batch” of heroin, probably laced with fentanyl.
The Rock County Heroin Task Force issued an alert Monday, citing information from the Rock County Public Health Department.
The department saw an increase of “potential opioid-related overdose hospitalizations” in the two weeks from July 15-29.
The Milwaukee County medical examiner reported 14 overdose deaths from Friday through Sunday.
Dane County authorities issued an alert last week after six overdoses were reported at hospitals July 14-22, according to news reports.
The Rock County Medical Examiner’s Department, however, saw no overdose deaths over the weekend or yet this week, Director of Operations Barry Irmen said.
Rock County Health Department epidemiologist Nick Zupan emailed the task force Monday and asked that the information be widely distributed, said Erin Davis, task force member and executive director of Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change.
Zupan said Tuesday he receives information on potential opioid overdoses involved in Rock County hospital admissions and emergency-room visits, and the recent numbers are higher than usual.
Zupan said normal for Rock County would be a “small handful” of such cases over 14 days, and that number increased for July 15-29.
Janesville police officer Chad Woodman, whose job is to help drug users recover, said he saw four overdoses last week, one of them resulting in the death of an 18-year-old.
“When I see that many come in in that timeframe, based on where we were at two weeks ago, it’s a pretty good indicator of heroin with a higher amount of fentanyl than usual,” Woodman said.
Heidi Van Kirk of Rock River Recovery Network, a new nonprofit that aims to improve local drug treatment, said she heard of a case of a user who thought the “heroin” he bought looked different and asked his dealer, who replied, “Honestly, I don’t even know what’s in it anymore.”
The man used the drug anyway, overdosed and was revived with Narcan, Van Kirk said.
Local recovery coach Mike Kelly said one woman recovering from opioid addiction didn’t even know she had taken opioids. Turns out, the cocaine she was snorting was laced with fentanyl.
“So even the folks who are trying to stay away from heroin are getting hit with it,” Kelly said.
Zupan and Davis both said the problem could be tied to a “bad batch” of illicit opioids.
Zupan said the batch could be more potent than normal, or other substances could be part of a lethal mix of drugs sold on the street.
Fentanyl, a group of opioid drugs often manufactured illegally, has been tied to large numbers of overdose deaths nationwide, including all 14 overdose deaths in Janesville in 2017.
Fentanyl is said to be 50 times more potent than heroin.
Zupan would not reveal the number of recent Rock County cases, saying that privacy restrictions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, don’t allow the release of data points if the numbers are less than 15 to 20.
Zupan said he is frustrated by the rule and would like to share more information, but people can lose their jobs for violating the federal law.
It’s important for people to react quickly and call 911 in the event of an overdose, so first responders can start treatment, Zupan said.
Signs of an opioid overdose include:
Woodman sees some possible hope that the opioid epidemic is easing locally. Last year, Janesville averaged about one fatal and four nonfatal overdoses per month, and so far this year, the average is not quite three overdoses.
Woodman guesses people are using smaller amounts and local recovery initiatives are making an impact.
Thomas “Tom Cat” Anderson Sr.
Violet Lois Casper
Suzanne J. Elmer
Terrance L. Howland
Barbara L. Johnson
Lois C. Kerl
Robert “Bob” McCann
Joel Richard Myers
Margaret M. Pater
Eric W. “Porchy” Porter