STEVENS POINT – After about 200 people gathered at the Stevens Point Area Senior High Thursday to voice their opinions about the controversial Business 51 project, the city’s engineering firm will take the next steps in the planning process.
Although many in the audience hoped to see big changes in those redevelopment plans, only minor changes were made to commercial access along the 3 miles of Class and Church streets.
The city has proposed spending about $48.5 million to rebuild Business 51, which would include property acquisition, adding bike lanes, reducing turn lanes and travel lanes from two directions to one, and adding a median left turn lane on some sections of the road. .
The Stevens Point Common Council approved the project’s preliminary design plans from AECOM in September 2021 for the north, middle and south sections. After Thursday’s meeting, they will complete 30% of their design plan before returning to the city.
The meeting follows a referendum in August to create a rule that would require all city transportation projects costing more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars to be put to a public vote. The referendum passed by just 31 votes, and the city will ask voters to approve four road projects — unrelated to Business 51 — on the November ballot.
Kevin Flatoff, owner of Gold Key Motors, 3400 Church St., and other South Side businesses, said the referendum would negatively impact their businesses, and city leaders dismissed their concerns.
Thursday night’s meeting, which cost the city $16,000, featured three representatives from ACOM providing an overview of the project and answering questions from the audience. Topics ranged from pedestrian safety, property valuation, traffic volume and the public’s desire to keep the road four lanes.
Have there been any changes to the original plans approved in 2021?
Logan Dredske, AECOM’s transportation planner, said they have met with 28 property owners on the south side of the project since fall 2021, which includes 11 access changes and intersection realignments to allow business owners to access their businesses from Division Street. The adjustments made to the intersection minimized the impact on neighboring property owners.
Hardee’s was one of the businesses that saw a change after meeting with AECOM and proposed changes to the design and driveway area on Division Street.
“Before we finalize our 30% design, we will talk to the property owners in the central section and the north section,” said Dredske.
All other design plans are the same as those approved by the Common Council in September 2021.
Is the four-line option still possible?
Changing Business 51 from a four-lane to a two-lane center turn lane was a major point of contention among residents who spoke during the meeting, particularly in the northern part of the project. They questioned the validity of the decision based on a rating system developed by AECOM with only three points – 63 for the two-lane and 60 for the four-lane option. The rating is based on traffic operations, cost, right of way and safety for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.
Frustrated residents A survey of 1,617 residents in the city at the end of 2020 found that more than 85% of respondents said the lane reduction would have a negative impact on traffic.
“In all of these meetings, the overwhelming majority of these people have opposed this three-line agreement here,” Brooke Maddox said at the meeting. “And the city council, every single one of them, except for one individual here today, no, no, no, no, no. My question to you and the city hall is to what extent… do you listen to the people we pay taxes for?
Maddox’s question was met with applause from the audience.
Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza said the four-lane option is still a possibility. After Thursday’s meeting, he said he hopes the council will re-examine the four-way election in the northern and southern parts.
One councilwoman said she heard feedback when she chose the two-lane option. Kelly Fischler represents the 10th District. She said businesses in the South End don’t want a high-profile media, so she voted for a two-lane option with no media. In addition to the concerns of the businesses, she voted with taxpayers in mind.
“That was the financial aspect,” Fischler said. “I wanted to save money for the whole city.”
Council President Melesa Johnson based her decision on the tax base, safety, environmental impact and impact on affected property owners.
“I will listen to the experts, the traffic engineers and the Department of Transportation who are willing to provide advice and funding,” Johnson said. She said that their opinions will influence her voice in the future.
The roundabout raises questions about UWSP student safety.
Many residents expressed concern about the increased traffic at the intersection of Division Street and Fourth Street and the flow of students crossing the street in that area. The roundabout is an optional part of the AECOM recommended central section. It scored 43 points in the rating and the marked intersection scored 39 points.
“I hope they turn Fourth and Division streets into a signalized intersection for the safety of pedestrians and college folks,” resident Glenn Avang said after the meeting. “The pedestrians get lights, the cars get lights. That’s safer.”
Wiza said he also has concerns about the roundabout.
“Hundreds and hundreds of students are leaving and going to their next class or to get something to eat or something. So it’s a flood of students every hour during normal business hours,” Wiza said. “So I don’t think the roundabout will work as we first thought.”
Dredske acknowledged it was a point of contention when he reviewed the plaza proposal during the meeting.
“We know there are some concerns about the signalized and roundabout option and that’s something that will continue to be analyzed as we go into design to make sure it’s pedestrian friendly.”
What happens next?
After AECOM completes 30% of the design, they will present it to the Common Council. Council members vote to make changes or move forward with the design. Wiza said that they can see this finished design before the end of the year.
Before construction begins on any part of the project, a referendum must be held. Visa said voters could see a referendum on the first phase of the project on the April 2023 ballot.
If the referendum fails, the build will not start and the referendum must be retried.
“Note that the referendum is only on cost, not design,” Wiza said. “There has been talk of an advisory referendum on three or four lines, but there is no official proposal yet.”
The construction in the year It could start as early as 2024, he said. Plans call for the north section to be completed first, then the south section and then the central section.
The mayor and residents spoke at a meeting worth $16,000
More than 40 questions were asked at the meeting. A resident of the city said that they appreciated the meeting because it provided the necessary information.
“It’s important to know the whole picture and not go by hearsay or read people’s opinions,” said resident Laurie Schroeder. “We’re here tonight to get all the information, to see the presentations and the demos and get it all at once.”
Visa says the meeting is worth the extra cost.
“We’re looking at a $50-$60 million project and we’ve got another $15,000 to spend, take some data, and we’ve got good data, and we’ve got homework to do,” Wiza said. But I think that was worth it in itself.
Wiza said more information about property assessment studies and new street information will be added to the Business 51 count on the city’s website. Thursday’s meeting can also be viewed online.
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