Should we bypass some bypasses?
I was on my way to Burlington last week, but never got there. Blame the new bypass.
It had been awhile since my family and I had taken this particular route home from Racine. We were returning from my niece’s 30th birthday party, and I decided to drive through Burlington, where we could stop for gas and get something to eat.
But as we approached the city, we ended up on the sparkling new bypass that whisked us to the other side of the city. On this trip, there would be no stopping for a meal, and gas would have to wait until I got home.
It reminded me of all the places I don’t go anymore because I’m zipping past them at 65 mph.
When we go to my mother’s in Appleton, I take the Fort Atkinson, then the Jefferson bypass and no longer stop in the cities. Both communities have wonderful and historic downtowns, but I never see them anymore.
We’ve traveled to Door County for years in the summer, and the Kewaunee County community of Dyckesville always was a good spot to take a break. Now, you can only get a peek of the city through the trees as you whiz by.
There are lots of places I don’t go anymore because I’m zipping past them at 65 mph.
Granted, lots of people like bypasses, once they’re built, although I’ve never run into anyone clamoring for a bypass.
But it’s not all upside. There’s a tradeoff for the convenience.
If businesses are the lifeblood of any community, what do bypasses do for them?
If we bypass every small community, there won’t be a store left open to go to once we get to our destination.
That’s true in Milton, where they’re working on the next phase of a bypass around the city.
For a small community, it has several historic and thriving business neighborhoods. Merchant Row, just off the current Wisconsin Highway 26, is a historical stopping point, and the downtown hosts a variety of locally owned shops and restaurants.
On the south side of town, the Milton Mobil Travel Center, which includes a gas station, convenience store and a McDonald’s, may soon be cut off from 16,000 vehicles a day thanks to the new bypass.
“I cannot go on in this big elephant without traffic,” owner Amin Shaikh told the Gazette recently.
Shaikh said gas station owners in Jefferson have told him they’ve lost 60 percent of their customer base once that bypass was completed.
State Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, met with Shaikh recently and vowed to work with other state officials to find a solution, however late last week learned that no changes will be made.
According to Wynn, Steven Krieser from the state Department of Transportation told him that at this point the project was too far along to make major changes.
Wynn pointed out that the interchange at North Harmony Town Hall Road leads to rural areas south of Milton, and likely would be rarely used.
Arthur Road on the other hand, where Shaikh’s station is located, seems like a likely stopping point for travelers.
Wynn said he would introduce legislation in the next session to require the DOT to do an economic impact study before approving projects such as these.
“I haven’t given up on the fight to save the Milton Travel Center,” he said.
That’s a good idea, although I’m surprised that with all the things they study, an economic impact study isn’t already part of the process.
Despite that, other bypass plans are in the works in southern Wisconsin.
The Rock County Board on Thursday will consider a new connector road between County Highway G and Interstate 90/39 just north of Beloit.
The state is pushing the project so that drivers can use the new road as a bypass during the upcoming expansion of I-90/39 through Rock County.
The state’s preferred route is an extension of Inman Parkway from Highway G to Shopiere Road, which goes through prime farmland that already has pieces split up or sold for a variety of highway projects over the years.
Not every bypass is a done deal, however.
Last spring, a bypass connecting highways 11 and 14 west of Janesville was shelved following intense local opposition.
The plan only was in the study stage, but when they learned of the project, residents of Janesville Township galvanized quickly. Some of the proposed options would have included acquiring farmland and splitting some farms in two.
More than 1,800 people and 59 businesses signed a petition opposing the plan, according to news reports.
No one disputes that safety and commerce are important issues when deciding on transportation projects. And major projects like the I-90/39 projects will have significant benefits for the local economy.
But the impact on individual property owners and businesses needs to be a big part of the equation.
Lots of smart people plan these projects, and if a project really needs to move forward, the goal should be to find a way where everyone comes out ahead.