STEVENS POINT — The city’s engineering firm will move forward with the next step in the planning process after nearly 200 people gathered at the Stevens Point Regional High School on Thursday to comment on the controversial Business 51 project.
While many attendees would like to see major changes to these redevelopment plans, so far there have been only minor changes to commercial access along the 3-mile stretch of Division and Church streets.
The city proposes to spend about $48.5 million to rebuild Business 51, which would include buying property, adding bike lanes, roundabouts, and reducing traffic lanes from two in each direction to one, while adding a middle in some parts of the road Left turn lane.
Preliminary design plans for AECOM’s northern, central and southern portions of the project were approved by the Stevens Point Commons Committee in September 2021. After Thursday’s meeting, they will complete 30 percent of the design plan before sending it back to the city for approval.
The meeting follows a referendum passed in August on an ordinance requiring a public vote on all urban transit projects costing taxpayers more than $1 million. Passed by just 31 votes, the city will ask voters to approve four road projects unrelated to Business 51 in a November ballot.
The referendum was put forward by Kevin Flatov, who owns Gold Key Motors, 3400 Church St., and other Southside business owners who said Business 51’s plans would negatively impact their businesses, and city leaders ignored them worry.
The Thursday night meeting cost the city $16,000 and three representatives from AECOM presented the project and answered questions from the audience. Topics include pedestrian safety, property appraisals, traffic volumes and the public’s desire for roads to remain four-lane.
Are there any changes to the preliminary plan approved in 2021?
AECOM transportation planner Logan Dredske said they have met with 28 owners from the southern section of the project since fall 2021, which has resulted in 11 access changes and intersection realignments to ensure business owners are able to get full access from Division Street. Visit their business. The realignment of the intersection minimises the impact on adjacent property owners.
Hardees was one of the businesses that saw the changes after meeting with AECOM, which proposed changes to the design and its lane location along Division Street.
“We will be in dialogue with the owners of the mid and north sections before we are 30 percent complete,” Dredske said.
All other design plans are the same as those approved by the Common Committee in September 2021.
Is a four-lane option still possible?
Changing Business 51 from four lanes to two lanes, with transit lanes in some parts, particularly on the northern section of the project, was a major point of contention for residents who spoke during the meeting. They questioned the validity of the decision, based on ratings from a scoring system developed by AECOM, which differed by just three points – 63 for the two-lane option and 60 for the four-lane option. Ratings are based on traffic operations, costs, right of way and safety for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.
Frustrated residents also point to a survey of 1,617 residents conducted by the city in late 2020 that showed more than 85 percent of respondents believed that fewer lanes would negatively impact traffic.
“In every meeting, the overwhelming majority is against a three-lane deal here,” Brock Maddox said at the meeting. “And the City Council, every one of them, except for the one here today, no, no, no, no, no. My question is you and the City Council, at what time… will you listen to our taxes people’s opinion?”
Maddox’s question was met with applause.
Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza said a four-lane option was still possible. After Thursday’s meeting, he said he hoped the city council would reconsider the four-lane plan for the north-south section.
One council member said she did listen to feedback when voting for the two-lane option. Keely Fishler represents District 10. She said businesses in the South End didn’t want a higher median, so she voted for a two-lane option without a median. In addition to corporate concerns, she voted with taxpayers in mind.
“It’s also a financial aspect,” Fishler said. “I want to save money for the whole city.”
Council Chair Meleesa Johnson’s decision is based on implications for tax base, safety, environmental impact and affected property owners.
“I’ll take advice from experts, traffic engineers and the Department of Transportation and what they’re willing to fund,” Johnson said. She said their opinions will influence her future votes.
Roundabout raises questions about UWSP student safety
Many residents talked about adding a roundabout at the intersection of Division Street and Fourth Avenue, noting their concerns about the flow of students crossing the street at the location. Roundabouts are part of AECOM’s proposed alternative to the central road segment. It has a score of 43, compared to 39 for signalized intersections.
“For the safety of pedestrians and college students, I want them to turn Fourth and District Streets into signalized intersections,” resident Glenn Awan said after the meeting. “Pedestrians have lights, cars have lights. It’s safer.”
Wiza said he was also concerned about the roundabout.
“There are hundreds of students out there to the next class, or to grab a bite to eat, or whatever. So during normal business hours, there’s a huge number of students every hour,” Viza said. “So I don’t think the roundabout will work as well as we initially thought.”
When reviewing the roundabout proposal during the meeting, Dredske admitted it was a point of contention.
“We know there are some concerns around the signal and roundabout options and we will continue to analyse it to ensure it is suitable for pedestrians as we continue to design.”
What happens next?
Once AECOM has completed 30% of the design, they will submit it to the Common Committee. Council members will then vote to make changes or move forward with the design. Wiza says they may see the finished design by the end of the year.
A referendum must be held on the ballot before construction begins on any part of the project. Wiza said voters will likely go to a referendum on the project’s first phase in April 2023.
If the referendum fails, construction cannot begin and a new referendum must be held.
“Remember, the referendum is not about design, it’s about cost,” Wiza said. “There has been talk of an advisory referendum on three or four lanes, but no formal proposal has been made.”
Construction could begin as early as 2024, he said. The plan calls for the northern section to be completed first, then the southern section, and then the middle section.
Mayor and residents say meeting is worth $16,000 price tag
More than 40 questions were asked during the session. One resident said she appreciated the meeting because it provided the needed information.
“It’s important to understand the big picture and not listen to hearsay or read people’s comments,” said resident Laurie Schroeder. “We’re here tonight to get all the information, see demos and displays and get all the information right away. “
Wiza said the meeting was worth the extra cost.
“We’re working on a $50-$60 million project and spending another $15,000 to get some information, we’ve got good information, and we still have some homework to do,” Wiza said. “But I think it’s worth it in and of itself.”
Wiza said more information on the property valuation study and new road information would be added to the extensive Business 51 information already on the city’s website. Thursday’s session can also be viewed online.
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