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City, county give thumbs up to West Waukesha bypass

Town of Waukesha vehemently says 'no'

Dec. 18, 2012

The results of two votes stick out to former City of Waukesha Mayor and current Waukesha County Board Supervisor Larry Nelson: 22-1 and 15-0.

Those were the vote totals from the Waukesha County Board of Supervisors and the City of Waukesha's Common Council, respectively, on the West Waukesha Bypass - a project that has been part of the transportation of Waukesha County for nearly 60 years.

The County made their vote Nov. 27 and the Common Council declared its intentions at its meeting Dec. 6.

"The fact that the county and city votes were overwhelmingly in favor of it and not just by a small group of people is very significant," said Nelson, who voted in favor of the bypass, a four-lane thoroughfare that would run from I-94 south to Highway 59, replacing the two-lane Meadowbrook and Merrill Hills roads on the west side of Waukesha.

The only County Board member who did not vote in favor of the bypass was Supervisor Michael Crowley, while the supervisor who represents the town on the County Board supported the bypass as well as aldermen in the city who have ties to that area.

Not all in favor

However, another municipality - the Town of Waukesha - also took a vote on the bypass.

And unlike the town and county, they weren't so keen on having any part of the bypass, especially the county-endorsed Pebble Creek West Alternative.

The five-member board rejected the bypass by a 4-1 vote on all four resolutions of the bypass with one of them being not to build it at all. The others were the Sunset-to-County X Alternative and the Pebble Creek Far West Alternative. The Town Board discussed the bypass once again on Wednesday after Supervisor Joe Banske requested submitting a letter to the stakeholders of the bypass on non-retained routescontained within the Environmental Impact Statement.

Town residents argued that their voice needs to be heard since they said a majority of the bypass will reside in the town and that it would ruin the town's rural atmosphere, be a noise nuisance and that it would not be a financial benefit to them.

Nelson said he appreciates the town's concerns butadded that when he was the mayor in the City of Waukesha in 2009, he signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas, Town of Waukesha Chairman Bob Tallinger and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, identifying the local, county and state responsibilities for studying and possibly building the bypass.

He said despite it being shot down in the 1970s and 1990s it was being revisited because of the growing local and regional traffic volumes, to enhance traffic flow, to improve existing roadway deficiencies and safety.

Money is big factor

Nelson added that when that memo was put together, the town understood its role in the bypass.

"Some parts would be taken over by the state, some by the city and some by the county," Nelson said. "The town does have a role to play, but I really think the county vote and city council vote were the key votes moving forward. When we agreed to this, the town was not key in making this projectsuccessful."

He added this was because of the financial commitment to the bypass.

"When we put together the Memorandum of Understanding, at the time the city, county and state were the three parties who were committing money as well as a long list of other things," Nelson said. "The town would spend zero dollars on it and would cooperate.

"The town will be part of the record but they weren't a key part of the whole negotiating (process), because they weren't providing any money," Nelson added. "They were just agreeing to cooperate (by resolving jurisdiction of remaining pieces of County D, TT and local roads). I hope they would want to cooperate to make this road project as good as possible."

The EIS was then created and finished in October.

Town of Waukesha Chairwoman Angie E. Van Scyoc, who wasn't the chair when that memorandum wasconstructed, had serious questions regarding this EIS, which looked at noise, road safety, wetland protection and natural resources investigation.

She said at a Town Board meeting two weeks ago that she, along with Banske and Brian Fischer, gave an interview to a consultant hired by the county and that none of their concerns they addressed in March 2011 appeared in the document.

"There's some real questions as to why this was initiated in the beginning, and although there's lots of documents in here about people who want to see the bypass be put through, gosh darn that resolution from the Town of Waukesha doesn't appear and I feel that's a misrepresentation," Van Scyoc said.

However, when looking at a 103-page document titled "The Indirect and Cumulative Effects Report of the West Waukesha Bypass" done by the Waukesha County Department of Public Works released in September it indicates that the town was interviewed, along with a City of Waukesha planning director and engineer, a City of Pewaukee planning director and the Waukesha County planning director.

This document is included on a CD at the back of the paper version of the EIS and is a supplement to the EIS information.

And while it notes the City of Waukesha's support for the bypass it fully notes the town's concerns.

It concluded that the supervisors stated that the Pebble Creek Alternative had negatives that included the loss of commercial potential at the Sunset Drive/County X intersection, environmental concerns, loss of property and reduced property value for existing residents.

But when Van Scyoc asked the county about the town's 2011 resolution that indicated the town didn't recognize the 2009 memorandum, she said "one of the crafters of the resolutions told me 'You did a resolution? I didn't know that.' I said, 'You had to live under a rock to not know that.' How do you take some of these things seriously? I don't know.

"The conclusions by which this bypass is being pushed forward, it's really difficult for me."

Doesn't see advantages

Van Scyoc made a comparison of the governmental process of the bypass.

"My father was a butcher and you don't want to eat the sausage once you understand how it's made," Van Scyoc said. "That's kind of how I feel about the political process. The more I understand how decisions are made at different levels of government it becomes very disheartening. This is an impressive document but it's missing most of our history."

History that she said includes the impact on the Town of Waukesha, the fact that in 2005 the Town of Waukesha only supported the Sunset alternative and that Tallinger did not bring this bypass to a public meeting or to the Town Board.

She also pointed to documents the county has done to protect Pebble Creek.

"Every single one says we're supposed to protect it and now their choice is to put a bypass through Pebble Creek?," Van Scyoc said. "I don't understand."

Farmland taken away

Nelson said he isn't sure why the town wasn't included in the initial seven-sections of the EIS instead of a supplemental document, but he went back to the financial aspect.

According to the 2009 memorandum, the project was estimated to cost $50.7 million: the WisDOT would contribute $37.5 million and an additional $2.6 million for real estate if needed. The county would support $8.6 million and the City of Waukesha would give $2 million.

In an updated assessment of the Pebble Creek alternative, it notes that it would cost $55 million. And it could include four to five residential displacements and displace 43.8 acres of farmland and 14.0 acres of wetland. Moreover, the EIS states that the bypass' 25-foot cut slop could affect groundwater flow.

As far as accidents, the Pebble Creek Alternative, according to the EIS, would have a crash rate of 128 per 100 million, 42 percent lower than a no-build alternative, 55 houses would be affected by noise and that seven acres of floodplain would be impacted.

Also noted is that there would be two to three minute less travel time than with the no-build alternative by 2035 (many Town residents said that isn't a good enough reason to build the bypass).

The Indirect and Cumulative Effects Report notes that it recommended the proposed bypass be located to minimize impacting the primary environmental corridor adjacent to Pebble Creek to avoid impacting natural areas or critical species habitats and cause no net loss of wetlands within the Pebble Creek watershed. It also notes that school safety, especially at Meadowbrook School with students crossing the proposed bypass to access the school, was a concern. It says that one option discussed it to provide a safer crossing consisting of a pedestrian bridge over County TT.

Plenty of public comment

Nelson, who noted that the lack of a more reliable north-south arterial west of Waukesha would adversely affect travel reliability from areas south of Waukesha to I-94, said that this route affected the lowest amount of wetlands and that even though many town residents felt otherwise, the bypass could improve safety.

"I think in the town, if the bypass passes, it will help the economic development on the route," Nelson said. The town didn't accept that reasoning and many grassroots groups formed in opposition of the bypass.

The public comment period ended Dec. 10 and county officials, the WisDOT and the Federal Highway Administration are now going to review public and localgovernmentinput. A final environmental impact statement will be made and it could be approved in 2013.

"I think the county has bent over backwards to citizens in the town and city and has given them numerous opportunities to speak," Nelson said. "This was an unprecedented amount of public comment on both sides."

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