While preparing for the next public information meeting regarding the Business 51 Improvement project, officials say the evolving plan must address safety issues along the corridor.
The latest improvement alternatives for the Business 51 corridor will make the roadway safer, improve pedestrian and bicycle accommodations, replace aging pavement and utilities and improve visual appearance, according to AECOM officials.
Improving safety is important and possibly most important, said Bruce Gerland, AECOM consultant project manager, Friday, Nov. 8, during a meeting with media representatives.
As a result of the Business 51 Improvement study AECOM conducted, Gerland said they identified five needs for the corridor: traffic safety, pavement improvements, bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, geometrics and aesthetics.
The study revealed some intersections along Business 51 corridor, such as the Franklin and Fourth Avenue intersections, are five times higher in crashes than the state crash average.
“People need to understand this is about safety. It is the city’s responsibility to create a safe roadway,” said Amy Canfield, AECOM project engineer.
But it is not just intersections and motor-vehicle safety that needs attention, bike and pedestrian safety is also a concern.
Responding to the question if bike lanes are actually safer, Jeff Sandberg, AECOM traffic engineer, said, “actually, bike accidents happen more often on sidewalks. For example, when a car is turning and doesn’t see a bike crossing the street, and when a vehicle hits a bike it’s very rarely a minor injury.”
The detailed alternative AECOM has developed is specifically tailored to optimize safety, efficiency and practicality in the improvements and is not uniform along the entire stretch of road.
The latest draft was designed to meet the specific need of the different segments of the corridor because “the public said different segments of the corridor should be treated differently. They look differently, they act differently,” Gerland said.
Canfield said she thinks it is important for the public to understand that the alternative plan they are at now has been directly influenced by public concerns.
The city’s plans for the project were created with input from hundreds of property owners and city residents. The alternative plan currently being considered includes the combination of four-lane, two-lane and three-lane roadways which will all work together to minimize the impacts to adjacent properties.
After a preliminary analysis in May 2013, it was concluded the city would need to acquire more than 50 homes and businesses to keep the roadway four lanes throughout the length of the roadway while making the necessary safety upgrades. The new alternatives reduced that number by nearly 90 percent.
Additionally, safety will be improved through the use of raised medians, designated turn-lanes, designated through-lanes for smoother traffic flow, separate facilities for bikes and pedestrians and a reduction in the number of access points along the roadway.
Updating the utilities underneath the road is mandatory as well. Because the Business 51 corridor was built in the 1960s and was designed for a 50- to 60-year lifespan, the roadway itself is deteriorating and utilities underneath it, such as water mains and gas lines, are in dire need of updating.
One of the options AECOM has presented is a “no-build.”
It is important to remember that a no-build doesn’t mean “do nothing or just repave” the corridor, said Gerland. It means to tear up the roadway, replace the utilities and rebuild exactly as it was.
The no-build plan would not address any of the severe safety problems the road currently has, he said.
From 2006 to 2010, the average number of crashes on the road was 113 a year, causing roughly $3.6 million in damages. AECOM projected the cost to crash victims as $57 million over the 20-year lifespan of the road should they only complete a no-build plan.
“We have this one chance in 20 years, we need to do it and do it right,” said Gerland.
Additionally, simply rebuilding the road as it is would not qualify the city for state or federal money to aid in the overall cost of the project. Gerland said that although the overall cost of the project would be less than the plan they are leaning toward if they did a no-build, the city would have to foot the entire bill.
“It’s just too expensive for the city to do alone,” he said.
Because the traffic flow on Business 51 ranges from 12,000 to 15,000 cars a day, according to AECOM, some concern was raised about emergency vehicles possibly plugging up the three-lane sections of the corridor.
Public works and AECOM followed up with emergency services, Gerland said, and the police and fire chiefs said they would need 18 feet of road-width to safely operate.
No segment of the proposed road model drops below the necessary width, and traffic would be able to still flow even if a fire truck needed to stop on Business 51.
“People need to understand we would never engineer a road that if you had vehicles that needed to get thrugh wouldn’t be able to get through. That’s just not something we would accept,” said Mayor Andrew Halverson.
The city plans to select a preferred alternative in early 2014 and begin construction no sooner than spring of 2016.
“We are still in the alternative process, we haven’t made any decisions yet,” said Gerland. “We are still taking public input and are adjusting it accordingly.”
“We have had good input from the public, we are hoping for more,” Canfield said. “In this stage it is critical.”
The next public information meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, at the JeffersonElementary School in Stevens Point. Project team members will be available to answer questions about the project and detailed maps of the alternatives will be on display.