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Chance to reconstruct Buckeye Road on East Side narrows as city, county dispute details

March 7, 2019 GMT

With the clock ticking to get work done this year, Madison and Dane County officials are still squabbling over who will be responsible for a much-traveled East Side thoroughfare after the two jointly fund its reconstruction.

County and city officials agree that the mile of Buckeye Road, also known as Highway AB, between Monona Drive and Stoughton Road has not seen any major repairs in decades. Its surface is bumpy with potholes — and potholes in repaired potholes — and in some stretches lacks sidewalks on both sides, curbs and gutters common to roads in other Madison neighborhoods that are just as busy.

Both sides have agreed that the city will pay about 60 percent of the $4.7 million reconstruction cost — not including water and sewer work, which the city is covering in full, according to Rob Phillips, city engineer.

But while the county wants the city to agree to take on responsibility for future maintenance and repair of what is now technically a county-owned road, the city is balking at the notion of having to pay for a road while city residents already pay county taxes — including a $28 wheel tax instituted last year — that are supposed to go toward county road costs.

Phillips said such “jurisdictional transfers” are “not typical from our discussions with other municipalities in the state.” Jerry Mandli, county public works director, countered in a Feb. 18 letter to Phillips that the county’s cost-sharing approach is “more generous and lenient than what state law calls for.”

The dispute stands as an example of what can happen when a city’s growth turns what was once a rural county road into a de facto urban street.

“I can see the points of both entities,” said Dan Egan, who lives east of Stoughton Road and regularly uses Buckeye to get to places in Monona and elsewhere in Madison. “In between lies everybody who uses it.”

Lake Edge Neighborhood Association president Steve McCarthy said opinions among residents about Buckeye’s construction vary, with some eager to see the work done and others worried that it will cut into their yards or force the removal of mature trees.

“However, there are frustrations over the continuing changes,” he said. “It would be nice to have a decision made, and then move forward.”

Sara Cutler, principal of Allis Elementary School, located along Buckeye, urged city and county officials to come to an agreement.

“In the winter ice collects, making walking treacherous along the edge,” she said in a letter released Tuesday. “The cement and asphalt are crumbling and the width of the road itself does not allow for buses and families to park easily in order to maintain safe conditions.”

The area’s representatives on the City Council and County Board are not happy, either.

County Board Sup. Tanya Buckingham said in an email to Egan, “I’m incredibly frustrated about this.” And in a letter slated to be mailed to his constituents on Tuesday, Ald. David Ahrens, 15th District, said: “After years of discussion about the poor state of Buckeye Road, I thought that 2019 was going to be the year that the road would actually be repaired. Apparently, that was optimistic.”

As of this week, the city was willing to take over Buckeye in exchange for the county taking back a quarter-mile, multi-lane stretch of Mineral Point Road on the city’s Far West Side.

The county was offering to retain responsibility for Buckeye if the city would agree to “a more global agreement on maintenance” of county roads, according to County Executive Joe Parisi’s chief of staff, Josh Wescott.

Phillips said the two sides hved about a month to work out their differences if the project is to be let out for bid and completed this year, and that they will continue talking.