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DOT looks to expand I-94 near Roberts to six lanes

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is considering an expansion of Interstate 94 from U.S. Highway 12 to just past 130th Street in Roberts. The agency wants input from area residents.

WisDOT held a public meeting Jan. 22 to provide information about the study and to answer residents' questions

The project would expand I-94 to six lanes; replace deteriorating pavement; replace bridges over Kinney Road, 100th Street and 130th Street; and generally bring the road up to current standards, said Jim Koenig, the study project manager.

"It's what we call a backbone highway," Koenig said of I-94. "This corridor has a big impact on Wisconsin's economy."

Bill Rubin, executive director of the St. Croix Economic Development Corp., said the expansion would be good for the regional economy.

"For the greater St. Croix Valley, I think the interstate on this side of the state has a significant impact," Rubin said.

WisDOT hired EMCS Inc. to study the proposed expansion.

Stephanie Christensen, EMCS project manager, said by around 2020, I-94's current four lanes will no longer be enough to support the projected traffic volumes. She said WisDOT predicts there will be more than 50,000 vehicles travelling on that stretch of I-94 every day by 2020.

Koenig said the idea is to improve the highway's capacity before high traffic volume becomes a problem.

Christensen said the existing bridges are span bridges, which have 14.5-15 feet of clearance and are 1.5 inches thick. The new bridges would be concrete girder bridges, which would be sturdier, 5.5-8 inches thick with clearance of 15.25 feet.

EMCS needs to study storm-water management, scan for archeological or historical resources and plan for noise control.

Christensen said EMCS has already determined there are no archaeological or historical resources in the area. There is, however, a federally protected waterfowl refuge area, which could limit some expansion.

There are areas of the proposed expansion that would likely produce enough noise to warrant noise-mitigating measures, said Christensen. However, she said sound walls are not a viable option, as the price of building them tall enough to be effective would be too high. She said EMCS is exploring more options.

This is a separate issue from sound control during construction, which, along with safety, was addressed during the public meeting.

Several residents expressed concern about construction noise. Part of the concern was nighttime construction.

According to Koenig, WisDOT plans to use nighttime construction during the project, should it proceed, in order to keep the roads safe. He said it is unsafe to have only one lane open during peak traffic hours. Instead lanes would be closed at night.

Unfortunately, this could create some unwanted noise for those who live near I-94.

"We have recent history that suggests closing a lane during the day is not a safe option," Koenig said.

He said it is difficult for WisDOT to find a balance between keeping the roads as safe as possible and keeping construction from being a nuisance for those who live nearby.

Tom Beekman, WisDOT northeast region planning chief, said WisDOT plans to focus a great deal on traffic control in order to avoid accidents. He also said keeping traffic moving is important to driver safety.

"There are more crashes (caused) by a stopped or slow-moving vehicle than by a speeding vehicle," Beekman said, "because that's what people hit, that stopped vehicle."

Beekman said WisDOT also plans to invest in extra traffic controls throughout construction.

WisDOT plans to avoid allowing exceptionally loud road construction at night or arrange nosier construction so it can be done all at once and send out notices to warn residents ahead of time.

This study is a part of a long-term plan which, even if it moves ahead as quickly as possible, won't see construction until 2018.

Koenig said the study should be completed in summer 2014. Then the TPC will review it. After reviewing the project, the TPC has the option to recommend the project to the state Legislature.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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