The Merrill Common Council Tuesday approved annexation of a section of Hwy. 64 to give the city more control over roadway improvements to facilitate the development of a new Walmart super center.
“We’re just annexing a piece of concrete, one that we’ll be paid to maintain,” said city administrator Dave Johnson. The city will receive state aid to maintain that part of Hwy. 64, as it does for other portions of Hwy. 64 in the city.
The piece of Hwy. 64 annexed is between Pine Ridge Avenue and Hwy. 51. The land to the north and south of the highway right-of-way was already in the city; just the roadway itself technically remained in the town of Pine River.
The issue arose after the Wisconsin Department of Transportation stated a preference for a two-lane roundabout at the Hwy. 64/Pine Ridge Avenue intersection. The city and Walmart preferred to reconstruct and realign the signalized intersection. The DOT is requiring upgrades to the intersection to alleviate existing problems that will be compounded by the anticipated increased traffic associated with the super center and any other nearby development.
The city has pledged $400,000 toward reconstruction of the Hwy. 64/Pine Ridge Avenue intersection, with Walmart picking up the remainder of the cost. The super center is slated to be built to the southeast of that intersection and accessed by a southern extension of Pine Ridge Avenue. Walmart is expected to make an estimated $1.5 million in public improvements, including the intersection, Pine Ridge Avenue extension and sidewalks.
City Finance Director Kathy Unertl said the annexation will allow the city to use Tax Increment District (TID) funds for future roadway and utility improvements in that area.
The council also approved a memorandum of understanding with the DOT. Under that memorandum, the city is responsible for the reconstruction of the Hwy. 64/Pine Ridge Avenue intersection, while the DOT commits to modifications or reconstruction of the Hwy. 64/Hwy. 51 northbound ramp terminals and the Hwy. 64/Hwy. 17 intersection.