Highway 45/96 would close for 14 weeks in 2018
By Scott Bellile
Area residents are concerned over how a proposed single-lane roundabout at the U.S. Highway 45 and State Highway 96 intersection could impact farmers hauling large equipment.
The project, scheduled for 2018, has no set start date. They urged the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to bump the 14-week project up to April 2018, which is earlier than envisioned, so construction ends before the fall harvest.
Locals attended an Aug. 30 Wisconsin Department of Transportation meeting at New London High School to offer feedback on the project.
U.S. 45 serves as a divider between Waupaca and Outagamie counties, with the town of Caledonia to the west and the town of Dale to the east.
During the three and a half months of construction, U.S. 45 would remain open. The DOT would rent land from nearby property owners along U.S. 45 and pave a temporary easement for vehicles to travel around the work zone.
State 96, however, would temporarily close. The DOT is proposing detouring traffic via State 110, U.S. 10 and State 76.
Attendees expressed doubt drivers of oversized vehicles such as farmers would travel the distance of the official detour.
One man commented, “The posted detour is so far out of whack that no one’s going to take it.”
A man asked who would pay for the damage to local roads like School Road and Brehmer Road if area farmers driving oversized vehicles don’t use the detour.
Mark Steidl, project manager, said the DOT isn’t responsible because it won’t direct oversized vehicles to roads off the posted detour. He added anyone driving trucks of that size on local roads would be breaking the law.
Dennis Clegg, District 31 supervisor for the Outagamie County Board of Supervisors, told Steidl the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t plan to stop farmers who illegally use local roads because it’s not equipped to weigh vehicles.
“That’s going to be a problem,” Clegg said. “They’re not going to enforce it. They’ve got no way to enforce it because they don’t have portable scales in Outagamie County to weigh them. School Road is the road [farmers are] going to take.”
The DOT will work with the state patrols and proper authorities to get everything situated, said Tony Kemnitz, traffic safety engineer for the DOT.
Town of Caledonia resident Mike Petit asked how oversized farm vehicles will fit through the roundabout without damaging it. He asked if the proposed 20-foot single lanes should be widened.
“If that lane gets too wide, then people start cutting the corner and start racing through it,” Steidl said. “So you try to keep it narrow as you can to force people to slow them down as they go through the roundabout.”
Steidl told Petit roundabouts are built with truck aprons in the center to support vehicles of that size.
The U.S. 45 and State 96 intersection operates by stoplights. The reason for switching to a roundabout is the intersection doesn’t have long enough left turn lanes for vehicles turning off of U.S. 45. Additionally, vehicles in the turn lanes can’t always see oncoming traffic around the vehicles in the opposite left turn lane.
The DOT states there were 11 crashes at U.S. 45 and State 96 from 2010 to 2014.
“The crash rate at this particular intersection is higher than the statewide average,” Steidl said.
Two years ago, the DOT proposed either improving the traffic lanes or installing a roundabout. Both proposals were comparable in terms of cost, environmental impact and compliance with safety standards, Steidl said. The DOT chose a roundabout.
“We expect the roundabout will perform much better in terms of severity of crashes, especially for those crashes that involve people running a signal light or those types of crashes where a vehicle pulls out in front of an oncoming vehicle,” Steidl said.
Once the roundabout is built, the speed limit of 45 miles per hour before the intersection will technically be upped to 55 miles per hour, but there will be an advisory speed limit of 20 miles per hour posted 1,000 feet before the roundabout in all directions.
The $1.5 million to $2 million project will be covered by 80 percent federal dollars and 20 percent state dollars.
While nobody commented during the public forum that they dislike driving in roundabouts, Steidl said that’s a frequent complaint.
“I hear this quite a bit, you know, ‘I hate roundabouts. They get confusing,’” he said. “The benefit of this one is this is about as simple of a roundabout as you can get. It’s a single-lane roundabout, so it doesn’t have all the multi-lanes coming in, all the multi-lanes within the roundabout. The main thing as you go through a single-lane roundabout is before you enter it, look to your left and yield to those cars. Other than that, they’re fairly simple to maneuver through.”
As a side question, attendees asked why the DOT hasn’t converted U.S. 45 to four lanes.
Steidl explained that stretch of U.S. 45 sees 5,700 cars a day. It’s projected to increase to 6,700 cars a day by 2038. The DOT wouldn’t consider four lanes until it hits 8,700 cars a day.
“The traffic volumes out here aren’t even close to justifying two additional lanes,” he said. “And none of this stuff comes free. There is a cost to the taxpayers. If we put four-lane roads just anywhere, well for one thing, the DNR wouldn’t be happy with us, and No. 2, there’s a cost. You have to have traffic volumes to justify building those extra lanes. We don’t have those volumes out here and nor do we see that happening anytime soon.”