The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

State considers reclassifying County A


February 21, 2019


Hurley — The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is considering reclassifying Iron County’s County Road A in the town of Saxon, changing it from a rural major collector to a rural minor collector.

While the final decision hasn’t officially been made yet, county officials expect the reclassification will inevitably happen.

“As of right now, County A does not meet the criteria for a major collector. So they are removing it and turning it into a minor collector,” Highway Commissioner Mike Swartz recently told the Daily Globe.

While the change would likely mean little to the drivers who use the road each day, it has the potential to impact the funds available for future work projects.

This is why Iron County officials rejected a WisDOT request that they voluntarily accept the reclassification, Swartz said.

As an example, Swartz said the minor collector designation would mean Surface Transportation Program funds won’t be available for future repair or reconstruction work.

“Say (in) 20 years or whenever that road needs to be redone … that’s one funding source we cannot use,” Swartz said.

A reclassification doesn’t remove all funding options, Swartz clarified, but the designation does limit potential pools of money the county can tap.

WisDOT is considering the move as part of a statewide effort to update all rural county classification systems, according to Michael Wendt, a planning and program chief with WisDOT’s North Central region.

The federal government asks the states complete the process every decade or so after the decennial census, according to Wendt.

Rural road classifications are based on several factors, Wendt said in an email, including “population service, land use service, spacing and current average daily traffic.”

County A no longer meets a majority of the possible factors, according to Wendt.

Swartz said the reclassification first came up a couple years ago, which could have potentially caused problems for the county as work was still continuing rebuilding the County A bridge over Oronto Creek after it was washed out in the July 2016 storm that destroyed Saxon Harbor.

“I was very adamant that we cannot change that now, because we’re in the process of putting a new bridge in there,” Swartz said. “When it’s a major collector, 80 percent of that (project) is covered through Federal Highways. Twenty percent is our county share of that.”

He explained funds from the Federal Highway Administration aren’t available for similar projects on minor collector roads, meaning the state needed to wait for work to be completed before re-examining the issue.

“We were able to hold off until the bridge was completed, and then they revisited it here again,” Swartz said.

The change continues to be discussed at the state level, according to Wendt, with no formal timeline on when a decision will be made. He said the county will be notified once there’s a decision on how to proceed.

County Road A runs west and north from Wisconsin 122 to Saxon Harbor, where it connects to Harbor Drive that brings traffic back south to U.S. 2 at Cedar. Harbor Drive is not a county road.


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