Even in this pandemic year, some work—road work contracted by the state, for instance—has seemed to roll on uninterrupted.
Now, just one more year of work remains until the expansion of Interstate 90/39 between Beloit and Madison is done.
State Department of Transportation officials say the COVID-19 pandemic has not hampered the state’s progress on the 45-mile project. In fact, a DOT project manager and a DOT spokesman both said the $1.2 billion lane expansion project is running on budget and on schedule.
The project is slated to wrap by the end of fall 2021, but most of the long stretches between the state line and Madison will be fully open to traffic in the new three-lane configuration on both the north and southbound lanes.
In fact, DOT project manager Emmanuel Yartey said crews are striping portions of the new surface, a welcome return to a new normal for commuters and travelers of the road that’s been torn up for years.
Of course, there is one exception: Lanes of the Interstate’s span through Janesville at times will continue to be crimped and switched as crews continue to rebuild the interchanges at Highway 26 and Highway 14 on the city’s northeast side.
The half-mile section between the two heavily-used turnoffs is perhaps the trickiest rebuild in the 45-mile expansion, but even that work is running on schedule, the DOT said.
Yartey said that’s thanks in part to better construction weather than last year but also because of lighter traffic this spring and summer because of state COVID-19 lockdowns.
“What we got in our favor was there’s a pandemic. There is essential work, but lots of people were not traveling. Our highway traffic volumes dropped in some places by 40% or 50%. When the traffic is not there, we got more leeway to work on projects like the I-90/39 expansion,” Yartey said. “So, that helped us a lot.”
Continued groundwork on the two Janesville interchanges will continue through winter. The Highway 14 modified diamond pattern interchange and Highway 26 diverging diamond style interchange are slated to open at the end of fall 2021.
Until then, local traffic is in store for intermittent lane shutdowns.
The retail nexus of Highway 26 and Highway 14, Milton Avenue and Humes Road, has seen periods of heavy stop-and-go traffic in the mornings and afternoons as daily commuter traffic locks horns with ongoing work and temporary lane and exit closures.
But later this year, Yartey said, local motorists might begin to notice traffic snarls on the north side begin to ease. That could happen by late November or early December when the DOT opens up the Ryan Road spur, a new road that punches beneath the Interstate and connects to Deerfield Drive.
Yartey said the new road was designed to provide a shortcut for people to reach Deerfield Drive from the west side of the Interstate. An added bonus: Ryan Road will provide an alternate route for local traffic during construction on the interchanges.
“We’ve considered it crucial to get that Ryan Road completed and open because it’ll help with traffic as the rest of the Interstate expansion goes forward in Janesville over the next year,” Yartey said.
In Beloit, the prospects for a 2021 wrap for the I-90/39 expansion are favorable, too. The new I-43 interchange stands about half completed, a hulking set of skyway curves that right now look more like ancient aqueducts than a road. But Yartey said that construction is on schedule, too.
In Janesville, look for eight lanes free of orange barrels by late fall 2021.
After that, Yartey said, Janesville has one more step: a yearlong rebuild of Humes Road from the Interstate to Milton Avenue.
For the ribbon cutting on the Humes Road stretch, we’ll see you in 2022. Weather depending.
Just days before the presidential election, millions of mail-in ballots have yet to be returned in key battleground states, and election officials warn that time is running out for voters who want to avoid a polling place on Election Day.
At least 35 million mail-in ballots had been returned or accepted as of early Wednesday, according to data collected by The Associated Press. That surpasses the 33.3 million total mail-in ballots returned during the 2016 election, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Yet an estimated 1.9 million ballots were still outstanding in Florida, along with 962,000 in Nevada, 850,000 in Michigan and 1 million in Pennsylvania. In most states, the deadline for ballots to be received is Election Day.
“Don’t wait until Election Day,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf implored voters this week. “Hand-delivering your own ballot now will give you the peace of mind that your vote will be counted and your voice will be heard in this historic election.”
Combined with early in-person voting, at least 71.5 million votes have already been cast, more than the total number of advance votes four years ago.
Many states made it easier to request a mail-in ballot this year amid the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about crowded polling places on Election Day.
One challenge has been ensuring that voters who are not used to voting absentee return their ballots in time to be counted. Compounding concerns are mail delivery delays that have persisted across the country. Delivery data from the U.S. Postal Service does not offer much assurance that these ballots will reach their destinations if they have not already been mailed.
Throughout the fall, as ballots moved through the postal system, the agency has consistently missed its goal to have more than 95% of first-class mail delivered within five days. In the week that ended Oct. 16, the most recently available weekly figures, the Postal Service reported a national on-time delivery rate of 85.5%. Postal districts in many presidential battleground states failed to reach even that mark.
The district that covers the eastern part of Michigan, which includes Detroit and its suburbs, has had one of the country’s worst delivery rates—just 71.5% of first-class mail was on time in mid-October.
Michigan’s top election official was among those warning it was too late to try to return a ballot in the mail. She urged voters to use an official drop box or to return their ballot in person at their local election office.
“We are too close to Election Day, and the right to vote is too important, to rely on the Postal Service to deliver absentee ballots on time,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said.
This year, Michigan has deployed hundreds of drop boxes across the state. The state’s ballot deadline is 8 p.m. Election Day.
The same deadline holds for Wisconsin after the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed a Democratic effort to extend it. In the state’s April primary, some 80,000 ballots arrived after Election Day.
Voters in the state appeared to be heeding the call to return ballots early, with only about 287,000 ballots outstanding out of some 1.8 million that were sent. That amounts to roughly 16% yet to be returned.
Nevada voters have more time to return their ballots, which are not due until Nov. 10 if postmarked by Election Day. There, an estimated 962,000 ballots were still outstanding as of Wednesday, although it’s unlikely all those will be returned because the state decided to send a ballot to all 1.7 million active registered voters in the state. Some voters will choose to show up at the polls or just not cast a ballot.
In Florida, 4 million of a record 6 million mail-in ballots requested had been returned as of Wednesday morning. The state was on pace to eclipse the return rate of 2016, when 81% of 3.3 million requested mail-in ballots were returned.
To be counted in Florida, ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Election Day.
“We are not necessarily concerned about the number of outstanding vote-by-mail ballots other than trying to hammer home the message that postmarks will not count and to get them in our office by Election Day,” said Danae Rivera-Marasco, spokeswoman for the Orange County supervisor of elections.
Some voters are still waiting to receive their ballots.
Abby Leafe, a registered Democrat who lives in suburban Philadelphia’s Bucks County, checked her mailbox Tuesday in vain for her ballot. She hopes to vote absentee but will go to the polls if she has to.
“Making sure we have free and fair elections is worth getting COVID for,” said Leafe, a 46-year-old market researcher from Newtown.
In Pennsylvania, the crush of mail-in votes is a record, more than 10 times the number received by counties in 2016’s presidential election.
The current deadline for ballots in Pennsylvania to be received is three days after the election, but last-minute litigation could move that deadline to Election Day.
In most states, voters who requested an absentee ballot but did not receive one in time or decided not to return it can still show up at their local polling place on Election Day and vote. In a few states, these voters could be required to cast a provisional ballot, which will be counted after the voter’s eligibility is confirmed and it is determined that they did not already cast their absentee ballot.
Large numbers of voters showing up at polling places on Election Day after requesting an absentee ballot could trigger delays and long lines. The process for checking in will take longer, and casting a provisional ballot also is more involved.
“Everything that adds time to that process is going to have an exponential effect down the line,” said Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, whose members administer elections. “So we certainly encourage anyone who’s applied for a mail-in ballot to use that ballot as a safe and secure way to vote.”
Lindsey Davidson’s puppy, a husky-Pomeranian mix named Cooper, had been with her for most of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She works at home in Janesville as a computer programmer for a California hospital, so she said Cooper and his bright blue eyes were “basically by my side 24/7” since she got him in mid-April.
“He went boating, camping, everything with me,” she said.
“And then I took him to Herman’s Hangout in August.”
The Fort Atkinson facility that trains dogs is where Cooper died, Davidson said.
A Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab report shared by Davidson and her lawyer, Daniel Jardine, says Cooper suffered from strangulation. A photo they shared also shows Cooper’s body with a red mark on his neck.
A news release issued by Jardine said Davidson is not the only person whose dog died in about a month’s time at the training and boarding facility run by Tammy Olson.
Chase and Megan Peterson of DeForest lost Marley, their 1-year-old Goldendoodle-Labradoodle mix, on Aug. 8. The release states Olson told them Marley died of “hanging after he was placed by Olson upon an elevated ‘place box,’ with a leash extending from his choke collar to a fixed location above, and left there alone.”
Davidson has said Olson told her that she had “put too much pressure” on Cooper’s choke collar, and he “went limp,” according to the release.
The Humane Society of the United States suggests avoiding choke chains because strangulation is possible.
Tammy S. Flemming, whose maiden name is listed as Tammy Olson, was charged Wednesday in Jefferson County Court with a single misdemeanor count of mistreating animals as an intentional or negligent violation.
When reached by phone Tuesday, Olson declined comment.
“I’m not making any further comments about this issue,” she told a Gazette reporter.
But in an earlier interview with WKOW, a Madison TV station, Olson said the families were wrong to blame her use of choke chains and that the dogs’ deaths were freak accidents.
She also reportedly told the TV station that Davidson was her next client after the death of the Petersons’ dog, and that “Cooper was supposed to help me get my confidence back.”
The criminal complaint says Olson was training Cooper late one September night using a method called “release of pressure.” Olson told Fort Atkinson police that Cooper was “fighting” her and thrashing his head back and forth, which led Olson to continue pressure on his choke chain.
She released the chain when Cooper’s back legs became weak, the complaint states. She was then unsuccessful in life-saving measures via mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compressions.
When Davidson dropped Cooper off for training Aug. 13, she told The Gazette that she saw Marley’s ashes on an end table and was told the dog died from health issues.
Davidson said Cooper was supposed to come home Sept. 10 for a visit, but she said Olson told her Cooper was acting up and didn’t deserve a positive reward. Davidson said she was “devastated,” and a phone call later that night brought even worse news.
“I had to ask the question, ‘Is Cooper alive?’” Davidson recalled. “And she said ‘no.’”
“It was unbelievable,” she said of her reaction. “Just panic mode set in.”
Jardine, Davidson’s lawyer, said other people have told him they noticed their dogs acting strangely or frightened upon returning from Herman’s Hangout.
Davidson said she doesn’t want anyone else to endure what she has.
“I don’t have children, so my dogs are my children,” she said. “Cooper became very close to me over COVID and everything. He was my best friend.”
When she got Cooper, Davidson had two other dogs. But they are older, ages 13 and 17, so she considers herself “lucky” to still have them.
To help her get over the loss of Cooper, she got another puppy of the same breed, named Apollo.
But Davidson said she still feels the grief.
“Every day is a challenge,” she said. “Some days I just think he’s at training and that he’ll still come home.”
Thomas Lee Hunn
Merrill E. Moore
Virginia Kathryn Smith
Alan Chester Sultze
Ruth J. Thornton
Michael George Wegner