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Local leaders call for study of intersections near I-39-90 before finalizing Beltline interchange reconstruction designs

December 14, 2018

Local leaders said Thursday that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation needs to further consider traffic at nearby intersections before finalizing plans for the reconfiguration of the Interstate 39-90 interchange with the Beltline.

DOT officials designed an overhaul of the interchange that would remove the left-lane exit from the interstate to the westbound Beltline and replace it with a right-lane exit, in the final phase of the $1.2 billion interstate expansion project from Madison to the Illinois stateline. The interchange project would also realign the northbound lanes of the interstate and add a third lane to the southbound lanes.

There will be only two northbound lanes of the interstate through most of the interstate, which critics have said will create a bottleneck for northbound drivers.

At a public hearing Thursday, Matt Schuenke, the McFarland village administrator, and Carly Lincoln, a legislative representative for the Ho-Chunk Nation, called for a more expanded review of the project to look at intersections with Highway 12-18 that are just off the interstate.

Schuenke said traffic problems at the interchange of Highway 51 and the Beltline and the Highway 12-18 intersections with Millpond Road and Highway AB need to be considered in the redesign plan because the problems in those places also impact traffic on the interchange.

“These types of things should be accounted for within the environmental document and the design as the project proceeds,” Schuenke said. “This is a very important access point for our community as well as the state Capitol and what is a very thriving economy.”

Lincoln, who is a Dane County resident, said intersections with roads leading to nearby Ho-Chunk Nation’s properties are inadequate and dangerous. Future development of the Ho-Chunk Nation and expansion of its properties — and subsequently increased traffic — would only make the intersections worse, Lincoln said.

Drivers on Millpond Road or Highway AB have stop signs at intersections with Highway 12-18 but have to make left or right turns into oncoming traffic that does not stop. That could be dangerous if drivers misjudge the speed of the oncoming cars, Lincoln said.

A possible solution, Lincoln said, would be a reworked intersection, or interchange, at Highway AB, where drivers could then access a frontage road to travel to the Ho-Chunk properties.

“I think it would be very pertinent to maybe address some of those issues now when we’re doing such a critical change,” Lincoln said.

Schuenke also questioned the decision to keep only two northbound lanes through the interchange.

DOT’s design would drop the third northbound lane about halfway through the core of the interchange, but a lane would be added back as part of the interstate’s on-ramp a few thousand feet farther down the roadway. Critics of the plan have said dropping to two lanes through the interchange would create a bottleneck and cause traffic jams.

Two lanes will provide more than enough capacity to move cars through the interchange, said Alex Cowan, a traffic engineer consultant with DOT, and giving drivers on the on-ramp a continued lane will reduce the number of merges needed and subsequent crashes.

Cowan said there are significantly more drivers using the on-ramp than there are drivers traveling north on the interstate through the interchange, which isn’t the case for many interchanges. Making the higher-volume on-ramp merge another time onto the interstate would likely lead to more crashes and potentially traffic slowdowns, he said.