WisDot gets feedback on possible Hurley roundabout

 

August 31, 2019



By RICHARD JENKINS

rjenkins@yourdailyglobe.com

Hurley — The community got its first chance to see several of the designs the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is considering for the U.S. 2/U.S. 51 interchange in Hurley Wednesday — including the possibility of building a roundabout.

The public had the opportunity to provide feedback on three basic designs — rebuilding a modified version of the current overpass design, converting the interchange to a T-intersection with a stop sign on U.S. 51, or a roundabout.

Representatives from WisDOT and the engineering firm Ayres Associates said the current bridge needs to be replaced or rebuilt for a variety of reasons.

“The existing bridge that’s out there needs to be rehabilitated. So whether or not they go through and do the rehabilitation, or they replace it, something needs to be done with the bridge,” said project engineer Andy Dana, with Ayres Associates. “They’re leaning towards replacement for two reasons. One, if they rehabilitate it, they’re going to be back out there in another five to 10 years having to rehabilitate it again. The other reason why is, the existing bridge does not work for oversized, overweight vehicles.”


He said there have been several times when trucks carrying oversized loads have hit the structure while attempting to drive under the bridge. The pavement in the area also needs repairs as well.

The WisDOT representatives said a final design hasn’t been picked yet and they are gathering feedback as part of the decision process.

Wednesday’s presentation began with an overview of the project and history of the interchange before outlining the three plans. All three plans work operationally, according to the presentation, based on WisDOT’s ranking system.

“Like a report card; A is the best, F is the worst or failing. A lot of times what we’re looking for is trying to meet C or D,” Dana said. “In this case, all three of these are B or above. So all of them are better than what we really hope for when we’re dealing with an intersection.”

Roundabout design

The roundabout design calls for two lanes of vehicles on U.S. 2 heading west, with one lane going into the roundabout and the other bypassing it entirely. Eastbound U.S. 2 would be a single lane, with U.S. 51 having a single lane in each direction as well.


The design would cost $2.3 million to $2.8 million and reduce the amount of pavement needing to be built and maintained by 1.6 miles through the elimination of the current entrance and exit ramps.

The roundabout idea spurred the most discussion, with a number of the audience members presenting a range of concerns and questions.

The concerns included issues with the area’s heavy snowfall, elderly drivers not understanding how roundabouts work, the added impact of traffic from the businesses near the roundabout and visibility issues with the roundabout.

Those making the presentation argued the roundabouts were actually the safest design and had built-in ways to slow down drivers as they approached.

Although most of the comments ranged from questioning to outright opposition, there was some support for the roundabout design.

“This is the way the 21st century is going to manage intersections — you’re going to want continual motion, as far as travel goes and not stopping,” said Paul Jahnson.

Rebuilding an overpass

The plan to keep the same basic design in place now calls for increasing the height of the bridge by several feet, which would also make the entrance and exit ramps sharper and steeper.

The design would keep vehicles traveling at high rates of speed when merging, but would minimize the risk of T-bone crashes present in the T-intersection design.

“The problem with this one is, the traffic volumes … don’t really justify the need for an interchange,” Dana said, referring to the overpass design.

He said the current interchange was built in early 1960s when Hurley’s traffic volume was growing.

Dana said WisDOT’s current policy is not to build interchanges for locations that have traffic volumes of less than 12,000 vehicles each day.

Although there was an average of 13,200 vehicles traveling through the U.S. 2/U.S. 51 interchange in 1999, according to information presented in the meeting, that number had fallen to 8,900 vehicles by 2016.

Along with not being needed with current traffic patterns, this design is also the most expensive of the three — estimated to cost approximately $4.5 million to $5 million and potentially taking two years to build rather than the single year projected for the other designs.


Although it may be the most expensive and not necessary with the traffic rates, many people felt the design continued to work and there was no need for change.

“That overpass has served us extremely well since I was 10 years old or whatever it was,” said Joe Simonich, of Kimball. “When you think about the trucks that come through, I don’t know why you’d want to do anything besides replace that overpass.”

T-intersection design

The T-intersection would require northbound traffic on U.S. 51 stop at U.S. 2, with a separated lane on U.S. 2 for those cars turning left from U.S. 51 to reach highway speeds as they travel west.

The need to cross U.S. 2 to turn west does create the possibility for T-bone crashes, according to the information presented, that isn’t present in the other designs. By eliminating the entrance and exit ramps, this design would eliminate roughly 1.3 miles of existing pavement from the project that wouldn’t need to be rebuilt or maintained going forward.

It is estimated to cost approximately $2.5 million to $3 million, according to the presentation, although this could be higher as it doesn’t include the costs of right-of-way acquisition and wetland mitigation that would likely be needed for the design.

Although much of the talk was on the roundabout, the T-intersection option may have been even less popular.

“The stop sign (plan) — I don’t even think you should have it up there, you shouldn’t even consider it,” Iron County Board chairman Joe Pinardi said. He expressed support for a two-lane roundabout or one that allowed more options to bypass the roundabout entirely if the current design had to be changed.

According to the presentation, the design team hopes to announce its preference this winter or in the spring of 2020, with construction scheduled to start in the spring/summer of 2021.

The team continues to accept public comments on the three plans, which can be made by contacting Dana or WisDOT project manager Jim Volkmann.

Volkmann can be reached at jim.volkmann@dot.wi.gov or 715-365-5773, while Dana can be reached at danaa@ayresassociates.com or 920-498-1200.

 
 

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