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Bypass not an option



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The proposed change to Highway 14.

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July 10, 2012 | 03:27 PM
WALWORTH – Why isn't a Highway 14 bypass an option? After all, bypasses have been recently built in Lake Geneva, Whitewater and Burlington.

"The DOT has told us we don't have the truck traffic to warrant a bypass," Trustee Dennis Vanderbloemen said .

However, the bypass has been in the state's plans since at least 1965, but today it is no longer an option.

The people pushing a bypass vehemently oppose the village's Highway 14 plan, which reroutes downtown traffic around the west side of Heyer Park, demolishes the antique mall and runs the road closer to Walworth Elementary School.

The proponents of the village's Highway 14 plan aren't opponents of a bypass. In fact, it was one of the first ideas they pushed for, but have been repeatedly told by state officials it is not an option.

During Monday night's Village Board meeting, opponents of the village's Highway 14 plan discussed a petition they circulated and presented to the board last month. Those people prefer the semi-trailer traffic completely divert from the community.

Last month, Louise Czaja, who was one of 10 people circulating petitions, presented 69 petitions with 710 signatures that opposed the village's plan for Highway 14.

"We are a group of carrying and concerned citizens," she said. "We wouldn't be here if we didn't love our village and our community."

Czaja once again expressed her concerns with the destruction of the Antique Mall and moving the road closer to the school. She also objects to the village using $400,000 of Tax Increment Funds to pay for a portion of the project.

"There were 710 informed citizens of the village who signed our petition," Czaja said.

Her use of the word "informed" likely wasn't accidental.

After last month's meeting, Trustee Kent Johnson was quoted in the Regional News stating he didn't believe the citizens who signed the petition "were really well informed."

Village President David Rasmussen made his case for the village's plan.

Under any other proposal, the state would eliminate angle parking around the square, which Rasmussen believes would economically devastate some already established restaurants and shops.

The village's plan also eliminates all truck traffic on the north and east end of the square.

Rasmussen admitted the village's plan wasn't perfect, but, in his opinion, is the best option.

"The state didn't give us better viable alternatives initially," Rasmussen said. The Highway 14 plan was developed by village planner Jamie Rybarczyk.

In other state proposals, several other businesses in the community would be torn down for the road to expand, including King Dragon.

"The alternative plan takes down more of the business than this does," he said .

An additional part of the village's plan is to create a road connecting Onvoy directly to Highway 14, north of the village. Rasmussen said a large number of semi-trailers travel down Beloit Street each day and this road will eliminate most of that traffic.

With existing conditions, semi-trailers on Beloit Street are within 50 feet of Walworth Elementary School. Under the village's proposal, Highway 14 would run within 80 feet of the school.

However, the number of trucks traveling along Beloit Street is significantly fewer than the number on Highway 14.

Rasmussen also believes the village's plan will provide more stability to the village's square and Heyer Park. Rasmussen said if the road isn't changed, and turns are just widen to support semi-trailers the plan won't be viable in the future.

He argues that in the future semi-trailers will get bigger and the state will need to acquire more of Heyer Park in order for the 18-wheelers to negotiate turns.

"The DOT was asked to evaluate the safety of all our proposals," Rasmussen said. "And we are waiting for that to come back."

He also dismissed arguments that semi-trailers will drive between 35 and 40 mph next to the school. With the amount of traffic that exists, Rasmussen said the trucks would have to be the only vehicles on the road to reach those speeds.

He also pointed out another problem with the square. Misguided motorists heading south frequently have failed to negotiate the curve and drove into the park. Those vehicles don't often get far, and historically, many of those drivers have been arrested for drunken driving.

"The most dangerous drivers coming through Walworth aren't 18-wheelers," Rasmussen said.

However, many citizens want the village to push harder for a bypass.

"The comment is, 'Why not a truck route,'" Czaja said she was repeatedly told while collecting signatures.

Czaja said the plans for a bypass have existed at the state level since at least 1965. Building Inspector Ron Nyman found a map at Village Hall showing the plan, which was created by the Department of Resource Development, which was financed by an Urban Planning Grant from the Housing Finance Agency through the Housing Act of 1954.

"It doesn't make sense to keep pushing it off into the future," Czaja said of the bypass.

Dolores Pophal, another signature collector, said village officials should do more to push for the bypass.

"I don't think you should ignore the resident's petition," Pophal said. "The residents expressed themselves."

Walworth Police Chief Chris Severt said he recently spoke to Al Gilbertson, a DOT representative involved in the project.

Gilbertson told Severt another public hearing for the project will be in August, but a date hasn't been set yet. He also said the fence outside of Walworth Elementary School isn't an accurate representation of what will be put in.

During that conversation, Gilbertson also once again told Severt that a bypass isn't an option.

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