Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Road To Sprawlville, Chapter XV: WisDOT Goes Consultant Shopping, Shafts Citizens Group

The latest installment in this blog's continuing series "The Road To Sprawlville" takes us across two Southeastern Wisconsin counties, misguided, as is often the case, by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Madison-based Central Office.

And just when you think that WisDOT and its Central Office (should that read, "Central Committee?") couldn't out-spend or out-shame itself, it carries out a stealthy, breathtakingly arrogant double-cross to show a citizens group in the southeastern Wisconsin heartland who's the boss.

Read on...

For several years, WisDOT and thousands of people living on or near Highway J (State Highway 164) have been locked in a dispute about widening a stretch of two-lane blacktop to four lanes, with limited access and a wide median, for about 18 miles.

The disputed segment begins at I-94 in Waukesha County, past multiplying subdivisions, and runs north into more rural Washington County.

The project has continued despite citizens petitions with more than 15,000 signatures in opposition, their land-use and safety concerns, and a lawsuit.

Little slows WisDOT, or the traffic its planning (sic) induces, or pares its spending.

Several sources, including the Highway J Coalition, and State Rep. Don Pridemore, (R-Hartford), said they had received pledges from WisDOT that the speed limit on the highway would be lowered from 55 mph to 45 mph, and a WisDOT-paid consultant recommended the lowering after a study.

But then, WisDOT quietly went out and found a second consultant to overrule the first. The second consultant - - and isn't it nice to have so much consulting money lying around that you can just keep on shopping and spending until you get the one you like? - - suggested raising the speed limit to 60 mph, so the final decision is a compromise to leave it at 55, and not lower it.

Shouldn't the good citizens along the route be grateful?

Pridemore, in response to an email question, confirmed these details Tuesday:

"DOT, the Washington County Highway Committee, the Washington County Sheriff and county supervisors were told that the first study recommended a 45 mph speed limit all along Hwy 164.

"The study was done late last year. Everyone seemed satisfied, DOT started installing the [speed limit sign] posts, then everything stopped.

"Someone authorized a second study be conducted by a Canadian company that recommended in many places, an even higher speed limit than currently posted, all because the first study apparently didn't take adequate steps to insure safety.

"The study results were kept quite for 3 months while everyone was still thinking the 45 mph signs would soon be installed. I am currently investigating the situation."

Outraged, the Highway J Coalition has called a meeting a public Saturday to protest the WisDOT consultant shopping.

Details about the 10 a.m. meeting at the Freiss Lake School, along the route at the intersection of State Highway 164 and State Highway 167 in the Village of Richfield, are here.

Sources report that meetings are underway involving local and state officials today - - doing something between last-minute study and damage-control, no doubt.

Meanwhile, the state is forging ahead with a plan to spend $1.9 billion to add so-called improvements and another 76 miles of new lanes to I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line.

Other pieces of the $6.5 billion regional highway rebuilding and expansion plan will spread across seven counties for the next 25 years - - with the Highway J expansion just a small piece of that bigger puzzle.

No comments: