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Consultant project manager Charles Wade of TranSmart Technologies, Inc., explains the freeway/expressway conversion alternatives for Highway 64 to residents before a public information meeting held by WisDOT at Somerset High School Nov. 6. (Photo by Sarah Young)

WisDOT completes Highway 64 freeway/expressway conversion study

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WisDOT presented four alternatives for eventually converting a segment of Highway 64 to a freeway or expressway between 150th Avenue in the Town of St. Joseph and Highway 65 in New Richmond at a public information meeting Wednesday, Nov. 6, at Somerset High School.

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The purpose of the meeting was to present and collect input from citizens who live, work and travel Highway 64. This project is independent of the St. Croix Crossing bridge project.

According to WisDOT project manager Jeff Abboud, there are no immediate construction plans, nor have any funds been set aside for a construction project. He also said WisDOT does not foresee converting the road within the study area to a freeway within the next six to 10 years.

“We are not buying any land until we have a project,” Abboud said. “Safety drives these types of projects and problems with intersections are the crystal ball. A map will be in place until construction is necessary.”

The alternatives

Alternative 1 (Freeway): Close the intersection at 85th Street. Close the intersection at 95th Street, make a local connection to the frontage road from 100th Street and build a cul-de-sac at the end of 95th. Connect 100th and 110th Streets via an extension of 185th Avenue. Connect 100th Street and Raleigh Road via the existing frontage road.

Alternative 2 (Expressway): Build a partial interchange at 85th Street, which would involve adding an eastbound off-ramp, a westbound on-ramp, shifting 180th Avenue and the frontage road and making a local access road. The intersection at 95th Street would be right-in, right-out, with a closed median. A frontage road would connect 179th and 178th Avenues. Extending 185th Avenue would connect 110th and 110th Streets.

Alternative 3 (Freeway): Build a partial interchange at 85th Street, which would include adding an eastbound off-ramp, adding a westbound on-ramp, shifting 180th Avenue and the frontage road and adding a new connection to 95th Street. Close the intersection at 95th Street, connect 95th Street to 85th Street and end 100th Street in a cul-de-sac. A frontage road would connect 85th and 95th Streets. A frontage road would also connect 179th and 178th Avenues. An extension of 185th Avenue would connect 100th and 110th Streets.

Alternative 4 (Expressway): Close the medians at the intersections of 85th Street and 95th Street, making them right-in, right-out intersections. Connect 85th and 95th Streets and Raleigh Road with 100th Street, with an overpass over Highway 64.

Alternative 4 is the one recommended by WisDOT, said consultant project manager Charles Wade. All four alternatives also include the “jug handle” option at the intersection of Wall Street and Highway 64 in New Richmond.

An overpass would be built over Highway 64 and access to the highway would be redirected down a frontage road to Highway K. Industrial Road and North Shore Drive would end in cul-de-sacs.

According to Wade, Alternative 4 impacts the fewest property owners while balancing road access and circulation needs with those impacts.

Key factors considered in the study were the number of farms affected, farm acreage, farm buildings, housing units and commercial buildings required, wetland filled, total area converted to right-of-way, total acreage of acquired property, net change of travel distances and total project cost.

Map benefits

“An official map informs and enables landowners, the public and local agencies to plan their future in ways that won’t conflict with future highway improvements,” a presentation on the WisDOT website said. “An official map allows WisDOT to preserve and protect future right-of-ways for Highway 64 where freeway/expressway design is planned.”

WisDOT lists these benefits for having a freeway/expressway conversion map in place:

--Preempts actions that could degrade roadway function over the long term

--Protects traffic flow

--Reduces future potential access conflicts and plans for side road access to Highway 64 being relocated to existing interchanges

--Maintains safe use of the highway

--Protects public investment ahead of future development

WisDOT representatives made clear this is only a map, not a construction plan. The map designates future right-of-ways needed for the freeway/expressway.

It also lets WisDOT compensate landowners ahead of a planned construction project, reduces the taxpayers’ costs for a future project and allows the public and communities to plan in advance according to WisDOT plans.

Community reaction

The last public meeting held concerning the mapping was in January 2012. The project began with more than 10 concepts and was narrowed down to the four alternatives presented here.

Terry Boblitt, who owns 10 acres on 82nd Street, said he thinks Alternative 4 looks best because it doesn’t affect anything on his land or his son’s land. His son Dan owns 25 acres on 82nd Street.

With Options 2 and 3, he’s worried “about access roads cutting down through the middle of our woods here,” Boblitt said as he pointed to the map.

He said he doesn’t mind Alternative 1 either, even though he’d have to go all the way to New Richmond to get access to Highway 64 to go toward the Twin Cities. He said he’d rather have that than have any roads cut through their land.

Sharon and David Huggett of Somerset said they came to the presentation to “see what’s what.”

“Whatever they do I’m sure they’ll work it out,” David said. “The road’s far away from us already.”

They’re worried that with a potential freeway designation, businesses like McDonald’s or others will go up near their home. They live near the BP gas station in Somerset.

“I’d rather see a park or a clinic go up,” Sharon said.

Billy Raleigh, owner of River’s Edge in Somerset, doesn’t particularly like Alternative 4 because of the lack of access to Highway 64.

He said locals already use the one-lane bridge going through his property from County Road C as a shortcut to housing developments across the river off Raleigh Road.

“I’m worried about it bearing twice as much traffic,” Raleigh said of the bridge. “We have signs telling people ‘do not enter’ but we can’t stop people. I’m also worried about the influx of traffic after more residential developments fill in. Where do I go to discuss a different river crossing?”

Abboud is welcoming comments from the public until Nov. 27. He can be reached at 715-855-7661 or by email at jeffry.abboud@dot.wi.gov.

The next step is a joint public hearing this spring where the public can give testimony, Abboud said. After that, portions of Highway 64 will officially be declared freeway/expressway and the official map will be adopted by June 2014.

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Sarah Young
Sarah Young was appointed the editor of the Pierce County Herald in February 2015. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, where she covered community events, spot news and education in Hammond, Roberts, Somerset and St. Croix County Circuit Court. Previously she free-lanced for the River Falls Journal, Hudson Star-Observer, RiverTown special publications and the Superior Catholic Herald. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. She lives in Prescott with her 2-year-old daughter Carolina.  
(715) 273-4334
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