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Highway 64 project kicks into high gear

In 1872, New Richmond was poised to welcome a transportation lifeline to town.

The Omaha railroad line linked the infant community to expanded commerce opportunities and people were excited.

Today, a new transportation link is creating a similar buzz. By November of this year, the final four-lane section of Highway 64 will create a speedy link between New Richmond and the metropolitan area to the west.

What the ultimate economic impact of the new highway will be is anybody's guess.

Some predict the link will open up the floodgates for new residents and businesses around the community. Others think the roadway will simply solidify the steady growth experienced in recent years. Commuters are excited about the prospect of shaving a couple minutes off their drive.

Almost everyone agrees, however, the appearance of a four-lane highway on New Richmond's horizon is a glimpse into the city's bright future.

The big push toward the construction project's finish started Monday, as temperatures rose and snow melted.

"We'll be full bore as of Monday," said Jim Bednar, project manager. "We're going to be jumping all over from here on out."

The initial schedule proves that things will start hopping very soon.

Crews closed a portion of County Road CC (Wall Street), from Industrial Boulevard to North Fourth Street, on Monday in anticipation of construction work.

Traffic was diverted to North Dakota Avenue, keeping the detour to a minimum.

"I'm not sure how long it will be detoured," Bednar said. "Probably three weeks to a month."

Next on the schedule will be the County Road K bridge, which was to have concrete poured on Wednesday, April 5. Officials hope the bridge will be open to traffic by May 15.

Work on Hatfield Lane and Industrial Boulevard is expected to begin in two weeks or so. At some point in the near future, traffic along County Road K, east and west, will be detoured as the project progresses through that area.

Crews plan to begin work on the Highway 65 and 64 interchange on the northern edge of the city beginning in mid-May.

Apart from the interchange, frontage roads will also be constructed to serve businesses near the new section of highway.

Bednar said grading operations for the main roadbed will pick back up once the spring sun takes care of the final remnants of winter.

"Depending on how quickly things dry, we'll continue grading," Bednar said.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation still expects the completed section of roadway to be open by the Nov. 15 deadline.

"We shouldn't have any problems," Bednar said. "Of course, it all depends on the weather."

For city officials, the completion of the final leg of Highway 64 cannot come soon enough. They understand this spring and summer promise to be a mess, as detours frustrate motorists and construction crews move tons of dirt, but the eventual payoff will be worth it.

"I think it's going to be a big asset to the city," said David Schnitzler, mayor of New Richmond. "I think it's going to bring more commercial development to the north side, and it may relieve some of the traffic downtown. It will be great."

The commercial development is a key element in helping the city pay for its portion of the project costs. Schnitzler said about $25 million in commercial construction needs to occur in the northern Tax Increment Financing district to pay for the improvements and services.

"It should help the city out as far as building up our tax base," he said.

Commuters are particularly interested in the project's completion, Schnitzler added.

"Statistics show that 70 percent of people in New Richmond work outside the city," he said. "It will be a big help to them. It will help them get to work quicker."

Even though the city has no say in how the DOT conducts the Highway 64 project, Street Superintendent John Berends said state officials keep him informed about progress and future detours.

"It's going to be difficult for people to get around for awhile," he said. "People will just have to be patient, because they've got to get it done."

Bednar said he will try to provide updates on the project's progress through the spring and summer, so motorists won't be surprised by any detours or closures.