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Action alert: Interchange planned for SE side will create bike-ped barrier

A big, very expensive ($35 million) interchange is planned for the intersection of Hwy 12/18 and County Hwy AB, and it has the potential to create yet another barrier to walking and biking in an area already nearly impossible to reach without a car. It is up for approval on Tuesday at the Council, and a few well-placed letters to alders and our transportation officials might avert this horrible project, or at least delay it long enough to make it more multimodal.

The project will be at the Transportation Planning and Policy Board on Monday evening and the Common Council for final approval on Tuesday evening. Links will access documents, register to speak, submit comments, and/or watch the meetings.

Where is this intersection? Unless you frequent the Ho-Chunk Casino or regularly drive to Cambridge, it’s easy to overlook this corner of the city. A map below shows you where in the city the project is located: ESE of the intersection of Interstates 90/39 and Hwy 12/18 (aka the Beltine.) To the south of Hwy 12/18 is the Ho-Chunk Casino and the Yahara Hills golf course, and to the north is a lightly-developed area that will likely be filling in as the city expands.

The current surface crossings of Hwy 12/18 at Millpond Rd and Cty AB have been the site of several very bad crashes, including a pedestrian killed last fall. But a better solution might be to make Hwy 12/18 a better surface road instead of making it an extension of the Beltline.

Wisconsin DOT has stated that, “there would be [bicycle and pedestrian] accommodations through the interchange, potentially along CTH AB, and along the frontage road. There would be side paths through the roundabouts.” In the future there is the possibility of a dedicated grade-separated bike/pedestrian crossing, and Meier Rd–west of Cty AB–will eventually also be an available crossing, but neither of those projects are part of this construction. It is unclear how low-stress the planned facilities will be on AB or through the interchange, and we know that “planned” projects often take years, or even decades to come to fruition.

The Yahara Hills golf course sits just west of the proposed new interchange. It will likely be developed soon into residential or mixed-use development. The Ho-Chunk nation wants to expand their facilities and is contributing some funding for the interchange project. Both of these impending developments are just more reason to assure that there are appropriate active transportation facilities and access now rather than at some uncertain future date. Not to mention, crossing at Cty AB is quite a detour if one is trying to reach the current land uses that are closer to the interstate.

Although Wisconsin no longer has a Complete Streets law, the city of Madison does, as does the Madison Area MPO. We must make sure that we uphold those policies, even when the project is difficult. The entire project is anticipated to cost $37 million. Why are we willing to spend that sort of money to facilitate faster motor vehicle access, but not the minimum facilities for those on foot and bike?

If you want more detailed information, here is a link to the presentation included as part of the city documents, including more detailed maps. And the text in this document—also part of the packet for the two city meetings—has justifications (if you can call them that) for both building the interchange and why better connections for active transportation are not part of the current project.

As always, you can find your alder and contact information on the Council website.