Redline Coalition urges Highway 12 environmental impact statement completion

July 20, 2017 GMT

WHITEWATER — The recently formed Redline Coalition has presented to legislators a petition regarding a U.S. Highway 12 and other transportation issues.

The Redline Coalition is made up of the Greater Whitewater Committee, Inc., Walworth County, City of Whitewater, Town of La Grange, City of Elkhorn, Lauderdale Lake and Pleasant Lake management districts and Walworth County Economic and Development Alliance (WCEDA).

Its mission is threefold: To ask Governor Scott Walker and legislators to direct the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) to complete the U.S. Highway 12 Environmental Impact Study (EIS); to look for a long-term solution to sustainable transportation funding, and ask the Federal Highway Administration to work with the state to loosen the regulatory restraints that cause expenses to the tier one EIS.

The Redline Coalition circulated a petition available for viewing at https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/highway-12-eis-petition.html. In less than a month, signatures have exceeded and the petition will stay open for continued support.

In addition to the signatures, there were 88 comments written by people, including residents, property owners and business owners. Among them were:

• “Do not widen and destroy the lake community or the businesses along the existing two-lane Route 12 Elkhorn to Whitewater. Let’s finish the Redline 4 Lane Highway!” –Christi Adams; Elkhorn.

• “US 12 is a two-lane road that was meant to connect local towns and businesses. The problem now is that since the limited access road extension to the four-lane highway was never completed, there is no alternative limited-access road, Highway 12 has traffic that is extensive — large number of semi-trucks and more car traffic. Many local business and housing developments would be impacted with widening of current Highway 12. Piecemeal fixes to current Highway 12 to help the situation are just band-aids that will not fix the situation.”

• “Finish what was started and extend the four-lane road where is now ends.” — Jean Bateman, Elkhorn.

• “This project is urgently needed for the safety of the thousands of motorists using this highway every day.” — Richard Costa, Whitewater.

“I am a victim of a crash on Highway 12. The amount of traffic since my accident has increased drastically. I am constantly in fear of being rear ended again. Speed limits are too high in the stretch between Highway A and Lauderdale Lakes area on Highway 12. It’s a residential area with several entrances leading in and out of sub divisions and businesses. Something must be done. People take dangerous chances trying to get onto Highway 12 because the traffic is out of control.” — Deborah Kessel, Elkhorn.

• “Highway 12 expansion is critical to economic development as well as highway safety in the Whitewater area. Please support timely completion of the EIS. Thank you” — Lynn Binnie; Whitewater.

• “This has been long overdue. The ability for people to transit along routes that are not the interstate are key to growth. Smack dab in the center of the golden triangle of Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, Walworth County is key to providing high quality services to the regional industries IF it has quality roads.” — Mark Rhodes, Lake Geneva.

The Redline Coalition hand-delivered letters seeking support from Walker; Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairs Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren; Assembly Speaker Robin Vos; Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald; Reps. Tyler August, Cody Horlacher, Amy Loudenbeck and Don Vruwink and Sens. Steve Nass and Janis Ringhand.

“The Walworth County Board has passed and sent to our legislators and the governor two resolutions supporting the EIS completion,” Walworth County Board Chair Nancy Russell said. “Its completion is essential to maintain and grow our economy sectors of manufacturing, tourism and agriculture.”

Russell also said the Walworth County Highway Jurisdictional Committee, comprised of all towns, cities and villages in Walworth County, earlier voted to support the redline route of Highway 12.

She added that the Pleasant Lake District, Lauderdale Lake District, City of Whitewater and the Town of LaGrange unanimously adopted the same resolution supporting the Highway 12 EIS completion.

On May 19, the Redline Coalition conducted Highway 12 Transportation Forum for community members in the area to provide input on the EIS that the DOT canceled. Invited were DOT Secretary David Ross and/or any of their staff. In attendance were Reps. Horlacher, Loudenbeck and Vruwink.

“The citizens of Elkhorn need a four-lane highway and I support the Redline Coalition’s goals,” Elkhorn Mayor Howie Reynolds said. “The forum held in May was successful in learning everyone’s thoughts on the situation and I look forward to the continuation of everyone’s efforts.”

The proposed Highway route to the west of Lauderdale Lakes between Elkhorn and Whitewater was mapped out by the DOT in 1967 according to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC). However, no progress has been made.

Preparation of the EIS was included in the 2013-15 Wisconsin biennial budget and approved by legislators and governor. After a purpose-and-needs evaluation, the Highway 12 EIS was put to a halt by the DOT.

According to SEWRPC, in 2016, the average annual daily traffic (AADT) volumes between the end of the four-lane segment to Highway 12 and County Highway ES historically have exceeded the 14,000 capacity.

“It was clearly approved in the budget years ago,” Greater Whitewater Committee President/CEO Jeffery Knight said. “Our hope is for the governor and legislators will direct the DOT to complete the EIS.”

Traffic continues to grow annually and causes congestion on the current Highway 12 route, creating trouble for travelers, the Redline Coalition officials noted. They said that Walworth County is the sixth-largest tourist county in Wisconsin, and growth in congestion can lead to increased accidents on Highway 12.

Between 2011 and 2015, there were 404 crashes on Highway 12 between Elkhorn and Whitewater. Fifty-nine were fatalities and 60 percent of the two-lane Highway 12 exceeds the average state crash fatality rate.

Redline Coalition officials said these numbers will only increase as the tourism industry in Walworth County continues to grow.

“Residents living on the current two-lane Highway 12 route have waited 50 years for answers about some sort of expansion,” LaGrange Town Board Supervisor Marcia Sahag said. “Everyone on Highway 12 and people living on the 1967 purposed route deserves answers from the DOT.”

The Redline Coalition members stated that a two-lane Highway 12 will not suffice as it cannot accommodate the large number of travelers during the summer months.

The organization is looking to finish the Highway 12 EIS and, if funding were to become available, it would like to move forward with the proposed “redline” route.

“The delay in the study keeps those affected by the highway project in a continued state of uncertainty about the future of their properties, businesses and lives,” Whitewater Common Council President Patrick Singer said.

“The uncertainty hinders the future development of possible jobs, businesses and any other developments.”

For more information on the progress of the Highway 12 Environmental Impact Statement and petition, contact Jeffery Knight at (829) 728-0662 or at jpk@knightpublicaffairs.com.