Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Highway 14 project doesn't present 'perfect answer'

by Jade Bolack

September 06, 2012

WALWORTH — The Wisconsin Department of Transportation hopes to find a solution soon to the problem of Highway 14 in Walworth.

The DOT brought both proposed plans for the highway to village residents Aug. 30, in an informational setting. Posters of the two plans were set up, and officials from the department were available to answer questions. No official agenda or presentation was made.

“There’s no perfect answer,” Michael Pyritz, spokesman for the DOT, said. “The bypass is no longer an honestly available option.”

A bypass, routing Highway 14 around the village, was proposed when the plans were first developed. Those plans have existed for decades.

One current plan, preferred by the village board, routes the highway closer to the school and eliminates sharp right turns. This plan would put both lanes of the highway along the west edge of Heyer Park and would cut through the current school parking lot to the west of the antique mall. It would then rejoin the current route near Maple Street.

The other plan widens the four intersections around the park square, maintaining the current one-way traffic around the square.

Both plans include tearing down the antique mall on the corner of Highways 67 and 14 and possibly other businesses along the route.

During the meeting at the elementary school, Village President David Rasmussen and school board members tried to gain ground for their preferred plans.

“It’s good that they (school board members) are finally looking at the alternatives,” Rasmussen said. “That’s a start. The discussion is how we make it work.”

The school board has worked to educate residents and parents about the highway being within 78 feet of the school building. The state has yet to determine which plan will continue forward.

“Other schools have highways closer than the proposed route would bring the highway to this school,” Rasmussen said. “The route change (for Highway 14) is from the village planners. They have the best interests of the entire village in mind.”

School board members Mary Heyer and Jacob Ries said they are concerned about student safety and air and noise pollution near the school.

Rasmussen said that no one was going to be perfectly happy with any plan.

“Some people see the route change as damaging the school,” he said. “Others see the alternate route (that widens the highway) as damaging the businesses downtown. It’s a process of balancing interests within the village.”

Pyritz said it’s important for the DOT to hear from all the stakeholders involved with the plans.

“We really wanted to hear from parents, residents, business owners and even truck companies about the proposed plans,” he said. “We already know the pros and cons of the plans. We’ve heard that. We’re looking for the most compelling argument, that one thing that will swing the decision in one way or the other.”

In the end, the final decision will be made by the federal government, Pyritz said. The plan will be decided on at the state level and approved by the federal government, and the DOT plans to begin construction by 2015.

“The project is both federally-and state-funded,” he said. “But 80 percent of the funding is federal, so they really have the final say. If we make a decision at the state level, and they hear a lot of backlash at the federal level, we’re going to have to explain why we decided like we did.”