By Maureen Vander Sanden

SLN staff

After rejecting future plans to widen Highway 50 from Williams Bay to Delavan in June, the Walworth County Board of Supervisors last week gave its blessing to expand the highway into four lanes from County Road F North to Highway 67.

Supervisor David Weber, Williams Bay, who verbalized his opposition to the proposed $37 million project during the June 12 meeting, took a different position Sept. 6, when the resolution supporting the project came back to the board.

“I am led to believe that all of the work and study put into (the plans) would be lost  (without the board’s approval),” he said, urging the board to approve the resolution with his proposed amendments in order “to continue giving the project the dynamics to move forward.”

“I think (it) has merit and value,” he added.

According to Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials, traffic counts have indicated the need to expand the highway into four lanes.

Four roundabouts are expected to be safer, and the plan was designed to minimize the impact to environmentally sensitive areas, historical and archeological sites, officials say.

Weber proposed amending the plans to replace roundabouts with traffic signals, adding retention ponds to limit runoff into Delavan Lake’s watershed, and allowing the Walworth County Public Works Department to work jointly with the WisDOT during the implementation stages, among other changes, that “would speak to a number of issues,” he expressed at the previous meeting.

“When the project gets to the point of be close to digging dirt, they will re-evaluate whatever documents and circumstances are on the table,” he said.

The project, which is set for 80 percent federal funding, and the remaining 20 percent picked up by the state, has been endorsed by both the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and is included in the 2035 Walworth County Jurisdictional Highway System Plan

“I think documenting that there are concerns by the populous and businesses in the area, gives the opportunity for another kick at the cat, so to speak,” Weber added.

But Supervisor Dan Kilkenny, Delavan, who said he was reluctant to support the project months ago, said Weber convinced him further at the previous meeting that a widened highway is unnecessary.

“I wasn’t too impressed with the state’s presentation,” he said. “I am not sure the state would allow Weber’s proposed changes. I think the bigger message would simply be to reject this.”

Kilkenny said the population growth of the impacted area has since slowed, so congestion in the future is unlikely and those motorists in a hurry could take an alternative route from Lake Geneva to Delavan, by hopping onto Highway 12, then connecting onto Interstate 43 in Elkhorn right to Delavan.

“I don’t know what we’re really connecting to with these four lanes,” he added.

He said that keeping the project in the works, simply because the federal and state government is flipping the bill, is not fair to taxpayers.

“The cost may be federal and state dollars, but is still taxpayers dollars,” he said. “The disruption to the community, environmental threats, and probably the use of eminent domain against peoples wills is simply not worth it.”

He further stated that with GPS technology, and other changes, it is hard to predict what traffic needs will be in the future.

“… If there is a great need, I think the state will have to take it up and look at it, rather than say, ‘we approve it and hopefully we can put the brakes on it and correct the plans in 10, 15, 20 years from now.’”

But according to Weber, who claimed to have met with officials from the WisDOT and SERPC in recent weeks, the need for a widened road is a reality.

“Documents and studies show the need is on the cusp,” he said. “If we wait and we lose 10-20 years to get there, we would have already created the problem.          “County F coming from south going to the north is already a hazardous intersection … Committing the sin of omission doesn’t fix it, committing the sin of commission at least gives us the opportunity to try and fix it.”

Town of Delavan Chairman Ryan Simons, who was at the meeting to speak in support of the project, said the plans were not endorsed by his municipality without complete input from citizens.

“This is the preferred option that the town has chosen and this is not without input from our citizens …the town thoroughly supports this option,” he said.

Three plans were scrutinized and a number of issues considered, according to Simons.

“The town looks at this project with three main objectives – to save lives, to save businesses and to save the lake,” he said.

He said that by widening the highway to four lanes, lives will be saved, roundabouts will save businesses and retention ponds will protect Delavan Lake.

“Though I’m not a fan, roundabouts allow for access to businesses that you couldn’t have with four lane intersection,” he explained.

After the lengthy discussion concluded, the board approved the resolution to amend the plan for the project into 2035 with Kilkenny the sole opponent.

WisDOT has not yet provided a timeline for the expansion of Highway 50 but officials have suggested 2020 would be the year construction would get started.


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