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Four injured in Roberts crash on Highway 65

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Looking southbound on Highway 65, semi trucks were backed up to the roundabouts at the Highway 65/Interstate 94 interchange this winter, as semis trying to turn west onto 70th Avenue to use the gas pumps at the Pilot Flying J truck stop stacked up with nowhere to go. (Photo by Sarah Young)

Traffic has nowhere to go

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news New Richmond, 54017
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

People who travel through Roberts on Highway 65 may have noticed that since the Flying J truck stop was built in 2012, traffic congestion at the Highway 65/70th Avenue intersection can be troublesome at times.

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The main issue seems to be when trucks heading north on Highway 65 want to make a left-hand turn onto 70th Avenue, to turn into the Flying J travel complex.

According to Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) Northwest Region Communications Manager Chris Ouellette, WisDOT is aware of the problem.

“This issue from our perspective on Highway 65 is we have experienced northbound traffic backing up on the highway while waiting to make a left turn onto 70th Avenue,” Ouellette said. “Traffic at times can back up to the roundabout, which also has impacts on people getting off and on I-94. This creates an unsafe situation on our state/federal highway system.”

Tim Ramberg, the St. Croix County Highway Commissioner, said while he has no jurisdiction over those roadways because they are state (65) and village (70th Avenue) roads, it’s his opinion that when Flying J was designed, there wasn’t enough “stacking distance” left between Highway 65 and where the trucks need to turn into the complex to use the gas pumps.

When there are a large number of trucks using those pumps, traffic stacks up behind them onto 70th Avenue, spilling out onto Highway 65, while they wait in line to use the gas pumps, Ramberg said.

“This causes concerns of congestion and semis stopping in the lanes of traffic impeding traffic movement,” Ramberg said. “I would think the Flying J would want to get their customers in and out. Maybe they need to buy more land to reroute traffic there.”

Ramberg said at a recent county Traffic Safety Commission meeting, Brian Erickson of the Wisconsin State Patrol said they may have to start giving tickets to vehicles blocking traffic lanes.

“He made the statement that he ‘would hate to start giving tickets,’” Ramberg said. “That would be bad for business.”

The topic also came up at the May 12 Roberts Village Board meeting, where village officials speculated that Flying J didn’t account for the amount of business it would receive when it built the site. Rumors also swirled that the county has plans to shut down 70th Avenue, but that’s not possible, Ramberg said. 70th Avenue is not a county road. As of press time, attempts to contact Roberts Village Board President Willard Moeri were unreturned. Roberts Village Clerk Doreen Kruschke said the board has been in contact with representatives from Flying J to discuss the issue, but she didn’t know the content of the conversations.

Ouellette said WisDOT has no plans to move the intersection of Highway 65 and 70th Avenue, though an intersection improvement project is in the design phase.

“We are looking at alternatives to add capacity to the intersection, which may include extending or adding turning lanes and/or through lanes at the signalized intersection,” Ouellette said. “The earliest any changes will occur is 2016. In the meantime, we may need to use law enforcement to keep traffic from backing up on Highway 65. That may include restricting left turns at times until traffic has cleared. Our priority is keeping traffic flowing safely on the state highway system.”

Jeff Klatt, field service captain of the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office and chairman of the Traffic Safety Committee, said the Village of Roberts will have to figure out a solution to the problem with Flying J.

“Something has to be done,” Klatt said. “Who would want to build back there?” Klatt said of the potential of more businesses going in to the west of Flying J.

Klatt said the Traffic Safety Committee sent a letter to the Village of Roberts expressing concerns about the traffic congestion.

“All the bottle up is happening on a village street,” Klatt said. “They will have to implement modifications.”

An email from communications managers Ann LeZotte and Lauren Christ of the Pilot Flying J corporation, which is based in Knoxville, Tenn., stated “Pilot Flying J is pleased that the Flying J Travel Plaza in Roberts, Wisconsin, has served the community and supported commerce in the area since 2012. Throughout construction of the travel plaza and current operation of the store, Pilot Flying J has cooperated fully with state and local officials. These officials include representatives of the Village of Roberts and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Pilot Flying J will continue to cooperate with these officials, and any further inquiries should be directed to them.”

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