WisDOT dropping plans to complete Highway 10 bypass project
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) announced during a public meeting Tuesday, Aug. 30, it will seek to essentially drop its plans to reroute Highway 10 from Amherst Junction south of Stevens Point and Plover and connect it to Interstate 39 south of the County Highway HH interchange.
Representatives from WisDOT said the reason is simply a dire lack of funding for projects throughout the state, which has forced them to prioritize all their projects. The Highway 10 project fell so low on the priorities list, WisDOT decided to discontinue all land preservation for the project.
“We’ve really had to shift our focus from expansion to preservation. Our budgets are such that we can’t get to all our existing work, we’re really having to be realistic about our ability to expand,” said Brian Gaber, North Central Region planning programming manager. “There’s been a shift in focus on our existing system and keeping that going because we just don’t have the ability to add to our system anymore and keep up with it.”
WisDOT had plotted out the path it wanted to build the Highway 10 bypass and preserved the right-of-way land necessary for building that stretch of highway. However, because there is no possibility of completing that project in the foreseeable future, the state plans to release its hold on the land and no longer pursue acquiring it.
A public hearing, the date of which has yet to be announced, will be held by the state regarding dropping the project, but officials said there really is no way to complete a project of that magnitude –estimated to cost $200 to $250 million.
“Corridor preservation is a state tool we use … that helps us identify properties that we want to potentially go ahead and put a new roadway in in the future. So it gives us an opportunity to preserve the right-of-way for any future use (before purchasing the land),” said Sean DeBels, WisDOT backbone (four-lane highway system) engineer.
The project was originally planned to alleviate traffic congestion along the stretch of Highway 10 through the east end of Stevens Point, as the city had developed a commercial corridor with many retail and service businesses, thus making it more of a local artery than a state highway artery.
However, as of 2014, DeBels said the traffic counts hadn’t reached a “fail state,” which would require immediate attention. Being that the corridor is still functional and didn’t pose a statistical danger zone, the project fell pretty low on the state’s priority list.
“We understand there is some congestion on the corridor now, but the corridor itself has not reached a fail point. Yes, during peak hour time, high-traffic times, you’re going to have some back-ups at the signals but it’s not at a fail state,” DeBels said.
“As you move to the west (from Amherst Junction) you see the numbers slightly go up. Then when we get into the urban area of Stevens Point, you’ll see roughly 29,000 cars per day. Now, if we were to go in and construct a highway – just to be clear, this is only a preservation project, this is not a construction project, we’re only looking at preserving right-of-way – you would only see roughly a 30-percent diversion of traffic onto the new corridor. That would not eliminate any congestion in the Stevens Point urban area,” he said.
“The other side of this is that we have no current construction projects planned for this area … there are no funds available in the foreseeable future to do any construction,” he said.
However, some local residents attending the meeting disagreed that the corridor is not dangerous.
“I’m here as a resident, not a business owner. I live on the east end of the corridor. First of all, these traffic numbers are three years old. Granted, maybe they don’t change a lot. But due to the land situation, if Stevens Point expands it has nowhere to go but east,” said a resident who did not identify himself. “Like I said, I live out on that east end of the corridor and coming up on Labor Day weekend, Friday night, that traffic will be backed up almost out to Highway J.”
The resident said he understands WisDOT’s predicament, but something needs to be done to make the corridor safer.
“Safety is definitely a concern, (but) we’re prioritizing our projects. We had two projects in the program that got moved out of the program, the Backbone Program is not a regional pot of money, it’s a statewide pot of money. So, when we have projects that come up to be evaluated, it’s a statewide evaluation,” said Gaber.
“Safety and bridges are at the top of that list, mobility is down at the bottom,” Gaber said. “So, unfortunately, for things to be prioritized in that statewide pot of money, they have to percolate up, and we have so many existing statistically-significant safety problems already existing in the state that this has fallen off the table because it is below the statewide average in terms of injuries and fatalities.
“Unfortunately, the money situation is such that a lot of that proactive work we can’t get to because it’s not prioritized because we have so much that’s already at that state,” he said.
Another resident, also unidentified, suggested the state look at using the current right of way and infrastructure of Wisconsin Highway 54 from Waupaca to Plover as the reroute path.
But again, WisDOT officials cited the fact they have been budgeted so little funds, they are struggling to maintain the current state highway system, much less take on new construction.
“If our new preferred decision is to no longer map it, we would have a public hearing with this decision hopefully in early 2017. We would then work with the Federal Highway Department to finalize the decision,” DeBels said.
At that point, WisDOT would close the environmental document, and the project would be off the table indefinitely.