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Editorial: Hwy. 35's transformation is a much-needed project

Journal readers last week noticed the front-page story detailing the March 1 two-car crash involving retired teacher and council member Dave Cronk on Hwy. 35N and Radio Road. Cronk was crossing the highway from Radio Road when he collided with a River Falls woman driving south on the highway.

Cronk was cited for failing to yield, but the crash is another reminder that Hwy. 35 is undergoing a much-needed transformation toward freeway status. What that means is, eventually, direct access to the highway from roads with stop signs -- like Radio -- will be history.

There will either be no direct highway access for some of the minor roads or interchanges with high-speed ramps to replace the right-angle, stop-sign connections that still exist for busier roads like Radio.

Let's face it, the time for this transformation is here. The posted speed on Hwy. 35N is 65 mph, but south- and northbound drivers routinely go 70-75 mph. During weekday rush hours and at night when it's dark, accelerating from a stop, then merging with the swift stream of traffic can be dangerous. An updated design that reflects the reality of rapid-transit, four-lane Hwy. 35 is overdue.

Part of the new design will start this spring at Radio Road and Hwy. 35. The state Department of Transportation has identified a low bidder for the 2013-14 project and expects any day to award a contract. Construction should begin May 1.

To remind our readers: An overpass, new entry/exit ramps and three roundabouts are to be built during the next two summers at Radio Road and the highway. In addition, Paulson Road will be extended from the end of the Whitetail Ridge Corporate Park to Radio.

Once the Paulson Road extension is completed this year, Radio Road access to Hwy. 35N will be closed. It will reopen sometime in mid- to late-summer 2014.

Other direct accesses along Hwy. 35N, including at Whitetail Boulevard and County Road U, will be permanently closed in 2014 once the new Radio Road overpass and interchange opens. Those closings are part of the highway's transformation to a freeway.

At first the construction and changes will bring inconveniences. But drivers will adjust. In the end, the finished redesign will make highway/freeway driving in and out of River Falls much safer than it is now.