Boards urge DOT to hurry Hwy 12 study
Walworth County and Whitewater governments approved resolutions asking the state Department of Transportation to proceed with an environmental impact study.
The study would help the DOT decide which of two options is better to improve Highway 12 between Elkhorn and Whitewater: constructing a four-lane bypass through Sugar Creek Township or widening the highway along its existing route from two lanes to four.
Residents of Sugar Creek Township are opposed to a bypass, but Elkhorn, Whitewater and Walworth County officials are in favor.
“What you got is an overtaxed system, and no one here has really advocated in the past for its completion or never been as vocal,” said Jeff Knight, a member of Greater Whitewater, which helps promote the city as a destination.
“What we’re trying to do is educate people why this is important.”
Elkhorn has its own citizen group, Red Line, which is calling for the DOT to take action. The city’s Municipal Services and Utilities Committee on Monday recommended Elkhorn approve a similar resolution, which will be discussed by the city council Nov. 21.
“I think a grassroots approach is very important to get the people up in Madison to maybe pay attention to what should have been done 40 years ago,” said Red Line member Cindy Balestrieri.
The existing two-lane road was designed to accommodate about 14,000 drivers, according to a report published by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
Weekday traffic on Highway 12 south of County A totals about 13,700 drivers, and average weekday traffic soon could exceed capacity north of County A, the report predicts.
Given Whitewater’s recent growth, Knight believes that’s accurate.
UW-Whitewater’s enrollment is at an all-time high, and the Whitewater University Technology Park is attracting new businesses. Generator manufacturer Generac and telecommunications company iPacesetters this year announced the creation of hundreds of jobs.
Sugar Creek Township residents in 2009 spoke out against the bypass, saying they didn’t want the highway rerouted through their township.
The Walworth County Jurisdictional Highway Planning Committee voted in 2009 to support the bypass. That recommendation will be considered by the DOT when it eventually addresses the Highway 12 project.
Whitewater City Manager Kevin Brunner said he sent a letter to Gov. Scott Walker asking for support in constructing the bypass. He said it’s difficult to say when the DOT will complete the environmental impact study, but such reports can take years.
“(The university) put millions in improvements to its facilities, and the city put in the infrastructure for the tech park and other improvements,” Brunner said. “We really need this to get people here.”
Widening Highway 12 along the existing route would mean less property acquisition and lower construction costs, while the bypass would create a safer road and less disruption for businesses and residents during construction, according to the study.