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Big ticket items
Decisions tough on pricey parking meter system, traffic light improvements

by Lisa Seiser

August 11, 2011

Members of the Lake Geneva City Council want more detailed cost information before deciding on a pair of big ticket city improvements.

On Monday night, the council agreed to postpone until Aug. 22, the possible spending of more than $1.5 million combined on a new parking pay station system and improved traffic signals at three intersections along Main Street in the downtown.

The city is looking at spending about $1 million for a new parking pay station system to replace its 948 coin-operated meters. An expenditure of more than $500,000 is being considered for updates and optimization to the traffic light signals at the corners of Center and Main streets and Broad and Main streets.

Also, some work would be done to the signals on Wells and Main streets all for a better traffic flow through downtown.

Both potential projects are included in the city's Tax Incremental Financing project list, and funds have already been collected to pay for a significant amount of the parking pay stations and the traffic signals.

But, the numbers presented — the parking system by City Administrator Dennis Jordan and the figures from Crispell-Snyder's Sue Barker for the traffic signals — weren't detailed enough for the council to move forward with initial purchases and funding engineering costs.

Alderman Tom Hartz said he wanted more definitive numbers before making a decision on either expenditure.

"I just want to make sure we know all the costs," Hartz said.

Jordan presented some cost figures for the parking pay station system, including the cost of 74 machines and installation, which totaled nearly $776,000. He said that would include the base units, some with solar panels, installation and training.

City officials have discussed a new parking system for years that would rid the downtown of the coin-operated parking meters and replace them with parking terminals which can accept coins, bills or credit cards. Jordan had said the cost for the system would range from $600,000 to $900,000.

However, now Jordan said he expects the entire project to cost about $999,000 because the city still needs to determine connectivity for the machines, monthly services and electrical installation. On Monday night, Jordan was asking for approval of the $775,000 to purchase the pay stations and for their installation.

Jordan and the council also talked about options for signage. He said if the city chooses signs like they have in Milwaukee on their meter poles, that could add another $110,000 to the cost.

But some aldermen weren't sure on how parking space numbers would be displayed and what to do with the current meter heads and the poles. Some thought they could be removed to make the downtown look better.

There also was disagreement over whether the new stations would provide additional income for the city.

This year, the city anticipates $744,710 in parking revenues. The sellers of the systems suggested the city would increase its total parking revenue with the stations because people just use a credit card and often pay for more time than they need.

But Alderman Todd Krause questioned whether that would mean fewer $12 tickets. He said fewer tickets is good for the city, but not so much because of lost revenue. Jordan said $225,000 comes from tickets. However, Krause also said the pay stations would allow the city to adjust its hourly rates depending on the parking location and the day of the week. He said that could make up for any lost revenue from the tickets.

Jordan said the city soon will have to make a decision in order for the new pay stations to be installed in time for next spring.

"I need a really clear idea of what the extent of the project is," Hartz said.

Traffic signals

For the second time, Barker spoke to members of the council about the traffic signals.

City Public Works Director Dan Winkler also discussed the project and what it would do for the city. He said it would "optimize" the use of signals, such as only having the turning arrow go on only if there were vehicles in the turning lanes.

"Our equipment is antiquated," he said. "We need to upgrade our traffic control and facilitate the flow of traffic."

The request Monday night was for an expenditure of $67,000 for city engineering firm Crispell-Snyder to perform a traffic count and design plans for the upgraded signals.

"They would have all the information and be able to set the traffic signals the right way," Winkler said of Crispell-Snyder.

Barker said she estimates the cost of the project is in the $500,000 range.

Winkler said turn signals and sequences would be analyzed all in an effort to keep traffic moving more through the downtown area at all times of the day and night.

Alderman Frank Marsala questioned whether the traffic signal upgrades would help when people are backing out of parking spaces and holding up traffic.

"How effective will this all be?" Marsala asked.

Barker and Winkler admitted that at peak times when traffic is really backed up in downtown during the busiest times of the summer, the signals will help out a little.

"In non-peak times, it will be very beneficial," Barker said. "At other times, you will still see improvement. This will give you the opportunity to make it the best it can be."

Winkler said there's sometimes nothing that can be done about the traffic flow.

"No traffic signal system will do any good when there is a total traffic jam," he said. "But this will help with reasonable flow system and it will help year-round residents get around much better."

Alderman Terry O'Neill said the project has a "high price tag with a low benefit." He said the cost is approaching $100 per resident and $250 per driver.

"It is hard to justify the cost for the benefit," he said.