Nearly two decades after the state Department of Transportation (DOT) initially proposed constructing a U.S. Highway 12 bypass around Fort Atkinson, the Wisconsin Transportation Projects Commission has officially removed the project from its studies list.
The commission on Monday stated that the “needs for this bypass are not expected to be warranted until after 2035.”
The DOT had stopped work on the U.S. Highway 12 corridor in 2012. The halt followed an outpouring of citizen comments against the bypass that delayed and stalled the project from its inception in the early 2000s.
The state had proposed a number of different options for the bypass through the Town of Koshkonong, but each had a contingent of area residents opposing it.
Whether it was Koshkonong residents opposed to losing valuable farmland or Fort Atkinson residents opposed to losing downtown business or the age-old complaint of the project just costing too much money, the proposed bypass drew widespread consternation from all angles.
At the time, the DOT proposed the bypass as a way to relieve congestion in Fort Atkinson caused by so-called “regional traffic.” The plan also aimed to limit heavy truck traffic through downtown Fort Atkinson and improve highway safety.
The DOT did a study of the highway in 2001 to predict the changes in traffic patterns — which found a need for congestion reduction.
The study showed that in 2001, a total 7,300 vehicles traveled on the highway during one day and that traffic would only increase as the population grew. Current DOT data shows the number of vehicles traveling on Highway 12 and through Fort Atkinson has continued to increase.
But even that study was controversial, with a citizen group called the Friends of Koshkonong disagreeing with its findings and conclusions.
One of the criticisms was that most of the traffic causing congestion in the area was local — meaning a bypass would not have fixed it. The study found 68 percent of traffic on Highway 12 originated in the Fort Atkinson area.
But, despite the outcry, the project continued to soldier on. The Fort Atkinson City Council ultimately selected its “preferred’ plan in 2006. This plan, “Alternative 7A,” called for a bypass going far south of Fort Atkinson. It would have destroyed a large amount of farmland in Koshkonong.
Current Town of Koshkonong Chairperson Bill Burlingame said Monday he didn’t understand how a plan could include the loss of so much farmland. He added that the Transportation Project Commission’s (TPC’s) decision to ax the project was a good thing.
“For the township’s sake and for the people of our township, that wasn’t a good deal,” Burglingame said of the bypass. “How do you destroy acres on an existing road?”
In 2005, Jude Hartwick — who had not yet been elected to the Fort Atkinson City Council — expressed his opposition to the bypass.
“I think it is a waste of money and I also think it is environmentally unsound and I don’t personally think there is a traffic problem,” Hartwick said at a public hearing that drew more than 200 residents. “I don’t see spending millions of dollars for 10 or 15 minutes per day.”
While today, the DOT and TPC say traffic needs are not high enough to warrant a bypass, in its 2006 projections, the DOT said traffic on Robert Street would increase 67 percent by 2030.
Fort Atkinson City Manager Matt Trebatoski said Monday that the city has jot expected any progress to be made on the project recently, but a solution needs to come at some point.
“From today’s standpoint, we need to figure something out,” Trebatoski said. “If traffic counts continue to increase, if truck traffic continues to increase, there’s definitely something we need to do. At some point, you can’t keep running a U.S highway right through town.”
Trebatoski added that he understands why the project got so much of a response in its early days.
“There’s pluses and minuses to having the bypass,” Trebatoski said. “There are different points of view, residents of the city, residents of the town.”
The TPC, which met for the first time since 2014 on Dec. 6, decides the fate of major highway projects in Wisconsin.
At its meeting, in addition to putting the final nail in the Highway 12 bypass coffin, the TPC ended a 15-mile expansion of U.S. Highway 14 from Janesville to I-43 in Rock and Walworth counties.