Walmart and the city of Merrill will share in the cost of reconstructing the intersection at Hwy. 64 and Pine Ridge Avenue to facilitate the development of a Walmart Supercenter.
In response the Walmart’s traffic impact analysis this summer, WisDOT had previously stated a roundabout was the best solution at that intersection.
The city of Merrill has gotten involved in the intersection and has agreed to work with Walmart on joint funding of the project.
“There will be some city involvement financially,” Merrill Mayor Bill Bialecki said. “We need to decide how much the city is going to be liable for.”
“At present we are in continuing negotiations with Walmart,” added Merrill city administrator David Johnson, speaking to the City Council Monday. “Since we are in negotiations, I won’t talk openly about where we are in dollar amounts.”
Following some concessions from the state, a plan was presented last week for reconstruction of the current intersection. The plan is closer to Walmart’s original proposal for the intersection.
“The last thing you heard was we needed a roundabout,” Merrill Finance Director Kathy Unertl told the council. “The impact of a roundabout on all four corners of this intersection would have been significant. We have been able to convince the DOT that it makes sense not to do a roundabout.”
Walmart has submitted preliminary drawings to the DOT with some lane widening and realignment of the intersection. The current intersection has some alignment issues, which have caused traffic problems that would be exacerbated by the increased traffic due to a Walmart Supercenter, said DOT District 7 Planning and Programming Manager Brian Gaber.
“Problems have developed there now with lower traffic volumes, and as you get a Super Walmart in there the volumes go up,” Gaber said.
The reworked intersection would also feature additional capacity in the turn lanes, particularly at the east leg of the intersection where vehicles would collect to turn left into the new Walmart.
Gaber said a redesigned, signalized intersection is an acceptable alternative to the DOT.
“You can have multiple successful alternatives,” Gaber said. “A roundabout gives certain benefits and a signalized intersection gives other benefits. Our preference is a roundabout if we’re paying for it. The city didn’t want a big roundabout footprint in there.”
As part of an agreement with the DOT, the city would annex the Hwy. 64 right of way between Hwy. 51 and Pine Ridge Ave. While the land to the north and south of the right of way is already in the city, the right of way itself remains in the town of Pine River.
The city would become responsible for that section of Hwy. 64, but would receive additional connecting highway limits aid for maintenance.
“The city will maintain it at its own expense, but the city will get additional aid from the state,” Gaber said.
The DOT, the city and Walmart have been meeting over the past few months to go through the options for that intersection.
“When it was going to be ours we preferred a roundabout,” Gaber said. “It isn’t that one works better than the other. We came to an agreement that we could all work with on the transfer of the connecting limits.”
The Pine Ridge Avenue intersection would not be a state project, except that the state would issue permits for it. Before the Supercenter opens, the DOT would work with the city of Merrill on an access permit for the southern extension of Pine Ridge Avenue to serve Walmart.
The DOT will be responsible for the improvements at the northbound Hwy. 51 offramps, which still needs to be studied and designed. In response to Walmart’s traffic impact analysis, the DOT recommended a roundabout would be the best solution at that intersection. But, that may not ultimately be what is built.
“I can’t specifically say there will be a roundabout at the offramps,” Gaber said. “The recommendation from the traffic study said a roundabout would be the best alternative. We have to let the design process play out to see if it is ultimately the best alternative.”
The DOT is looking at the intersection of Hwy. 64 and Hwy. 17, but the issues there are not related to the Walmart development, Gaber said.
Currently, Walmart is working on engineering for the new intersection. Gaber said the annexation process will be addressed simultaneously with the design of the intersection. The last project completed will be the improvements at the northbound offramps.