Roundabouts may or may not be part of the plan for reconstruction of Hwy. 64 between Pine Ridge Avenue and Hwy. 17 in Merrill. Representatives of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation introduced the pending project at a public involvement meeting in Merrill Tuesday night. The project will include the Hwy. 51 interchange and the intersection of Hwy. 64 and Hwy. 17/Cty. W.
WisDOT Project Manager Jed Peters pointed out that the intersections in the project are all inter-connected.
“We recognize that what happens at these ramp terminals directly influences what happens at the Hwy. 17/Cty. W intersection as well. We’re looking at it as one entire corridor,” Peters said.
The DOT is always looking ahead, trying to catch needs early before they become a problem, Peters said. The pavement is starting to deteriorate on that stretch of Hwy. 64 and an abutment of the northbound Hwy. 51 overpass will soon requires repairs or replacement. Along with those repairs, the intersections are being looked at to create better traffic flow in that area, Peters said.
“The meat and potatoes of this project that we’ve identified are the operations at those intersections,” he said.
Better traffic flow will mean increased safety, Peters added. A traffic impact analysis done in conjunction with the building of the new Merrill Walmart showed that the Hwy. 51 ramp terminals will function just fine as they are for the next 6-8 years.
“After that, the rate at which traffic can free flow through that intersection will dramatically decrease and we’ll start to see a lot of delays and operational issues,” he said, “and with that comes safety concerns. If traffic starts waiting too long you start maybe making some riskier decisions trying to get out in front of traffic. I think we’re starting to see that a little bit even at that Hwy. 17/Cty. W intersection.”
WisDOT is still in the planning stages of the project, which isn’t slated for construction until 2019 at the earliest. Traffic counts were done this spring. Consultant GHD, Inc. has used that data to project traffic demands out to 20 years in the future.
The available options to control traffic at those intersections include stop signs, traffic lights and roundabouts. The preferred alternatives will be determined based on factors including safety, cost, overall corridor operations, public input, and natural and social impacts.
Options being considered for the southbound Hwy. 51 offramp include retaining the stop sign as it is now, installing traffic signals or constructing a roundabout. The stop sign will continue to meet the DOT’s guidelines based on traffic levels projected 20 years into the future, Peters noted. Traffic signals or a roundabout would reduce the potential for crashes at the intersection, however, with a roundabout providing the greatest efficiency in traffic flow. None of the options would involve the acquisition of real estate.
The northbound Hwy. 51 ramp terminal is starting to fail in terms of operation, noted Rielly O’Donnell of GHD, Inc.
“Our only two alternatives really are traffic signals or a roundabout,” O’Donnell said.
The costs for either option would be similar, with the roundabout offering the more efficient operation.
Local residents who spoke at the meeting Tuesday night expressed concerns mostly about the Hwy. 64/Hwy. 17 intersection. The DOT is considering either leaving that intersection as a two-way stop, making it a four-way stop or constructing a roundabout. The roundabout option would be the most expensive at this location and would likely require real estate acquisition.
Even with keeping the intersection as a two-way stop, changes would likely be made.
“We are keeping that open as a potential option,” O’Donnel said, “and maybe improving the lane configuration through the intersection to help with safety issues there.”
Traffic signals would not be warranted at that intersection, based on traffic patterns, O’Donnell said.
“We even looked out 20 years and it wouldn’t apply,” he added.
A four-way stop could be used at the intersection in conjunction with some lane reconfigurations, O’Donnell noted.
Single lane roundabouts would handle current and projected traffic volumes at any of the intersections, noted Ben Wilkinson of GHD, Inc.
“The traffic is only about half of what triggers us over to a two-lane roundabout,” Wilkinson said. “A single lane roundabout will handle up to 24,000 cars a day and you guys are down around 10,000 cars a day.”
WisDOT held its first meeting with local officials about the project in May 2014 and held a second meeting with local officials on Oct. 14, 2015. Tuesday night was the first public involvement meeting on the project.
“Coming out of this we want to take any input you might provide, begin to refine our alternatives and develop a preliminary plan, start stepping these alternatives through our evaluation process,” Peters said.
The project schedule calls for preliminary plans and project documentation to be completed in April 2016. A third meeting with local officials and a second public involvement meeting would be held in late 2016 or early 2017. Any real estate acquisition would happen in 2017 or 2018. Construction is scheduled to start in 2020, but could get underway as early as 2019.
“Currently the project is scheduled and it is budgeted for 2020,” Peters said. “We are looking ahead to develop plans so that construction could occur as early as 2019.”
The project is estimated to cost $3-4 million in today’s dollars, O’Donnell said.
Written comments about the project are being accepted through Nov. 13. Comments can be mailed to Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), North Central Region, Rhinelander Office, 510 North Hanson Road, Rhinelander, WI 54501 or emailed to Jed.Peters@dot.wi.gov.