At a meeting of Ephraim and Gibraltar officials on June 16 at the Ephraim Village Hall, Department of Transportation (DOT) Project Manager Jeremy Ashauer presented the timeline and preliminary designs for the highway resurfacing from downtown Fish Creek to the newly finished highway reconstruction in Sister Bay.
“Final plans are scheduled for May of 2018 and then construction schedule begins in fall of 2018 and then finish in early summer of 2019,” said Ashauer. Until that time, the DOT will hold public hearings, finalize the design, and acquire the property needed for the project while clarifying the state’s right-of-way along the highway.
“By state statute we’re not supposed to have [encroachments] in our right of way,” said Ashauer. “As we go through the design, we evaluate those encroachments as part of our design process and we evaluate which ones have a potential safety hazard and which ones can remain in place.”
The DOT does not want any encroachments in the right-of-way, but will allow some exceptions for historical or ecological significance through a revocable permit. Businesses with encroaching signage are likely to be notified to remove the signage, while historic stone walls in Fish Creek’s corridor are more likely to stay in place.
In Ephraim, the right-of-way discussion has more to do with correcting the road.
“In Ephraim we have a right-of-way correction area. Parts of our road are not on right of way,” said Ashauer. “We want to go through, correct that and buy that right of way.”
That property acquisition will also include other sections of the project, especially the expansion of the sidewalk on the north side of Fish Creek up to the YMCA and Gibraltar Schools.
“We want to start a utility coordination in the spring of 2017. That gives them a full year before reconstruction to take care of any relocations, any conflicts we might have,” said Ashauer. “We don’t anticipate a lot of those conflicts but in some areas of our sidewalk expansion in Gibraltar we might see those. Anyone who has property that needs to be purchased will hear from our real estate agent at that time.”
On a resurface level project, the DOT rarely includes construction of sidewalks. The DOT funded much of Sister Bay’s highway project that included sidewalks because it was classified as a complete reconstruction. Brian Merkel, Gibraltar town board member, hoped that this rare inclusion of sidewalks around Gibraltar Schools in the Gibraltar resurfacing could also include an aspect of the Gibraltar Bike and Pedestrian Plan adopted in 2010.
“The Gibraltar Bike and Ped Plan, it has a section of sidewalk to be added from that corner up to the bank area,” said Merkel, explaining the stretch of road from the main intersection in downtown Fish Creek up to Nicolet National Bank. “We all know there was a fatality there because they were crossing the road and there was no sidewalk on that side of the road. So is there any thought about some type of sidewalk combination for that section that is depicted in the Gibraltar Bike and Ped Plan?”
Ashauer said the DOT would probably not look into it unless the town was willing to pay for it.
The same is true for pedestrian flow through the main intersection of Hwy. 42 and Main Street in downtown Fish Creek.
“Not that we’re closed off to that idea,” said Ashauer when asked if the DOT would consider modifying the crosswalks for pedestrians. “If the sidewalk goes there, people are going to cross there. It’s something we want to keep looking at, but as of right now, our stance is we’re probably not going to change the pedestrian movements unless you physically barrier [it] off.”
Ashauer explained that, by state law, when a sidewalk intersects a road on both sides, there is a legal crosswalk there, even though it does not have to be marked. Preventing pedestrian movement would mean rerouting sidewalks or creating physical barriers between the road and where the sidewalk ends.
The DOT will get to take their experience in Sister Bay and apply it to these two other downtown business districts while figuring out road closures and detours.
“We already know where the tourism season is, we know Fall Fest is a huge time for tourism dollars. We know that most businesses tend to say that their economic time period in September and October is about equivalent to July and August, so we’ve heard all that before,” said Ashauer.
The DOT expects almost the entire project to be done under open road conditions, using flagging and single lanes during the day while opening the road for nights and weekends. In some cases of culvert and storm sewer replacement in Ephraim, full road closures are likely, but Ashauer said the department coordinates with businesses to decide the best times for road closure and the best ways to reroute traffic.
“We did this well in Sister Bay. We did a survey so we could actually see how many people were impacted at those times. Doing that business outreach will be important as well,” said Ashauer.
Part of that outreach took place on Wednesday, June 22, with the first public information meeting held at Gibraltar Schools. It was the first in a series of public information meetings as the DOT finalizes plans during the next year.