City battling the DOT over 2017 Marquette Road project

By Correne Martin

The Prairie du Chien Common Council is at a crossroads with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which wants to reduce the proposed 2017 Marquette Road project, involving the section of highway from La Pointe Street to Mooney Street, from the previously intended five lanes to three (two traffic lanes and one center turn lane). The DOT cites significantly lower traffic counts as the reason behind the change and requested Tuesday night that the council approve an amended contract, including the three-lane design.

A public hearing on the proposed $10.6 million in improvements was the centerpiece of Tuesday’s common council meeting, involving nearly an hour of discourse. Yet, no action was taken.

Other than Craig Fisher, who represented the DOT at the meeting, no one seemed to support having fewer lanes in that stretch of roadway.

Speaking against the reduction in lanes, which would be even less than the four lanes that exist today, were Hardee’s Owner Dave Bowar, Doug Krachey of Krachey’s BP, Culver’s owner Jason Cathman, Prairie du Chien Economic Development Corp. President Bob McDonald, Steve Sagedahl of Design Homes, and PdC resident Marta Bartlett Brewer.

Those who expressed their discontent argued that fewer lanes would have a negative impact on local businesses and industries, who are the basis for the large amount of truck traffic that travels through Prairie du Chien. Several of the speakers said they preferred leaving four lanes at the very least. Over half of the council members shared their feelings on the issue and seemed to agree with the public.

Fisher countered that the current number of 12,000 vehicles per day that drive that section of road does not meet the new DOT standards for having a five-lane roadway. He added that, if the city insists on five lanes, the project would become more expensive and delayed several years. He said a 10-foot pedestrian path on the west side of the roadway would also be lost.

In the eight years since the city first began discussing improvements to this portion of Marquette Road, City Administrator Aaron Kramer said, the cost of the project has gone up 45 percent.

Although Kramer seemed to support five lanes, he said the street is already 47 years old in some spots and is deteriorating quickly, indicating the need for this project to be done sooner rather than later.

Kramer suggested that the DOT develop a map/diagram that showed the current lanes and their widths, and what the impact of five and three lanes would be. “I think there’s a lot of confusion,” he stated, noting that a hasty council decision could come back to trouble the city in the long run. “We want the council to understand what they’re passing.”

“Let’s digest all this before we make quick decisions,” Alderman Frank Pintz stated, motioning for the council to table action until the first meeting in May. That motion failed, 2-9, with only Mark Thein agreeing with Pintz. A second motion was approved to table the item until the April 8 council meeting. Fisher will be back in attendance for that meeting. Any further delay of action would likely push the project beyond 2017.

Reducing council size
Alderman Kyle Kozelka requested the council revisit the issue of reducing its size. He pointed out that, in an April 2011 advisory referendum, Prairie du Chien voters approved reducing the common council by a vote of 663-410 (by 62 percent). In December 2011, a motion to reduce the council to six members, one per ward and two at-large members, failed on a 5-4 vote.

Kozelka also noted that two seats are not being contested in the upcoming April election. He proposed reducing the council from its current 12 members to eight, with one member from each ward and two citywide at-large members. Pintz said he was opposed to any change, feeling that a larger council allowed for more discussion and ideas by an array of members from different backgrounds. Considerable discussion was held on how any change would be implemented, when it would be implemented, and how the committee structure would be altered.

Alderwoman Jamie Wagar said she felt the council should follow the voters’ direction and reduce the council’s size.

In the end, the council decided to table action on the matter to an undetermined date. The motion passed, 6-5, with Kozelka, Wagar, Karen Solomon, Jean Titlbach and Nate Gilberts opposed.

Other business
•The town of Bridgeport and Crawford County recently sent a new proposal to the council to improve Vineyard Coulee Road east from Highway 35 to a point midway along the boundary of the land recently annexed into the city by the Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital. The city’s section of the road would total 632 feet, but there would be no cost to the city. Also, the city would not be obligated to participate in any future improvements east of the current proposal.

The council unanimously chose to approve the improvement of Vineyard Coulee Road that falls within the city limits.  In addition, City Attorney Tom Peterson will draft a Memorandum of Understanding with Bridgeport and Crawford County stating that the city would agree to pay for improvements to the 632 feet of roadway, if further upgrades are undertaken.

•In February, the council extended an invitation to the town of Bridgeport to discuss a merger of the water and sewer utilities. In a letter, dated Feb. 18, the town’s attorney, Todd Infield, replied that the town would meet under two conditions: 1) The city serves their residents in a “professional, cost-effective and non-discriminatory manner,” and 2) The city agrees not to annex any more territory from Bridgeport. Kramer informed the council that the issue was on hold for the immediate future due to the recent death of Attorney Infield.

The council voted, however, to direct staff to participate in discussions with Bridgeport as long as the only topic of discussion and negotiation is the possible merger of the water and sewer utilities, and not annexation.

•The city has been awarded $46,762.24 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover the costs incurred during the severe weather last June. The council accepted the money, which will cover 75 percent of the costs, with the state and city each picking up 12.5 percent of the total.

•Bids opened on Feb. 26 for the Godden Pit dredging project and Rule Construction was the winning bidder at a pricetag of $243,680.

•The council approved an ordinance that will restrict traffic in the alley east of City Hall to one-way heading south. The change will take effect on May 1.

•The council approved a preliminary plat for the former Prairie Maison site.

•After closed session, the council rejected a claim by Roger Seitz, Sara Seitz and a minor versus the city of Prairie du Chien, seeking damages of $425,150.73.

•The group also gave staff the go-ahead to fill a vacancy at City Hall, which will be created on April 30 by the retirement of Sheila Linder.

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