Ellsworth group wants big changes on Main Street
Last week Wednesday, the Ellsworth Village Streets and Sidewalks Committee met with a representatives of the Department of Transportation (DoT) and River Falls-based Ayres Associates in attendance. DoT Region Project Supervisor Jim Koenig and Ayres Associates Brett Hollister met with the Committee about the 2021 Main St. Us. 10 and Hwy. 65 project that is scheduled for next summer.
“The project is primarily to improve the driving surface of the roadway,” Koenig explained. “So, we’ll be coming in and grinding the existing pavement and replacing with an asphaltic surface. We do have some work at the 65 and 10 intersection to replace the signals. We are going to replace the existing signal’s heads with what they call monotubes. We are going to try to improve the left turns for east and westbound 10 primarily.”
Koenig said that the goal is to make the existing intersections safer and more operational for Ellsworth traffic in the downtown area.
“As we go through the project, we’ll have adjustments to the manholes and inlets as needed,” Ayres’ Hollister said. “We’ll have quantities in the plan so we can address some
Photo by Jack McLoone. MAIN STREET
of that as we go.”
“Now, we do know this is kind of a band-aid project because of funding,” said Mike Steele, Chairperson of the Committee. “Everyone knows funding is short. Do you have any idea when there would be any major…” Steele trailed off.
“Well, we would expect this treatment to last 8-10 years,” Koenig answered, before saying, “I cannot guarantee the next treatment is going to be anything different than what this is. All I know is that in 8-10 years, we would be back to address the driving surface.”
Hollister informed the Committee that the project will be using a higher-graded bonding agent in the asphalt that is supposed to prolong the surface’s life and help stand up to the wear and tear of all the heavy traffic that comes through downtown.
Village Board member Scott Feuerhelm questioned if they are using any compact calculations that take into account the amount of semi traffic that travels on the roadways.
“If the frac stuff starts back up, there are tons of dump trucks with sand running through this street, probably more than anywhere else,” Feuerhelm informed the representatives.
“That’s what the higher-level oil will help, with all that truck traffic,” Hollister answered.
The representatives were asked if any of the cracks in the roadway will be repaired.
“The cracks out there will be addressed with the concrete milling,” Hollister replied. “We’ll go through and do a concrete milling, and then any substantial cracks will be addressed when we go through and do a concrete repair, so all of the joints that are substantially broken down, we’ll do a concrete repair.”
Hollister explained that a concrete repair means that roughly a six-foot section of roadway will be taken out and completely replaced before the rest of the roadway is addressed. Koenig said that if the crack is not big enough, it could also be repaired by filling it in with an asphaltic mix.
“So, I understand that the curb and gutter elevation is not going to change,” Village Board Member Neil Gulbranson questioned.
“Correct,” Koenig responded.
“So, through the concrete portion, essentially on Hwy. 10, we will be milling back 2 and a quarter inches and will be replacing it with 3 and a quarter inches, so it is essentially an inch,” Hollister added.“Out in that parking lane, we will taper it, so it matches the curb line. We will not overlay the curb and gutter.”
The representatives were questioned about the elevation issue on the north side of Main St., where it is higher than it is supposed to be. The representatives confirmed that this will not be addressed in this project.
Steele confirmed that the DOT will pay for the driving lanes, while the Village is responsible for sidewalks and light poles.
The representatives confirmed that the sidewalk’s elevation probably is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and that federal law states it cannot be replaced back out of compliance. So, the DoT cannot just replace the sections in question.
“The thing that was crazy about this is, when it was originally done, it was wrong from day one. In 1993, they did the whole thing. Didn’t ADA compliance pertain back then?” Village President Gerald DeWolfe questioned the representatives.
“Things have changed a lot since then,” Hollister said. “Their tolerance for accepting non-compliance has changed. The Department of Justice has said that, if you’re going to touch it, it basically has to be perfect.”
Koenig informed the Committee that the earliest the project might start is around Memorial Day late next spring.
“Once they start, they will have a timeline on when it will get done,” Koenig said. They expect to use flaggers on the road to direct traffic.
The time came for public comment.
“My name is Kim Beebe; I am with the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce. I actually requested this meeting today, thank you for taking the time to listen,” Beebe stated. “Two years ago, the Ellsworth Chamber did a campaign called Design Ellsworth where we brought in various volunteers. Ayres and Associates had a volunteer come and we spent the weekend brainstorming and dreaming about what we wanted for the future of our town. So, today I am here advocating for our businesses and our community, who came out in droves to state some challenges that we have in our downtown, and also to share some of those recommendations with you.”
Beebe shared some of the recommendations with the Committee, before expressing that one of the challenges faced in Ellsworth is that the lanes are very wide, traffic travels very fast, and the crosswalks are extremely dangerous for pedestrians to cross. Beebe also expressed that some downtown businesses believe that some greenery could improve the downtown area, but more importantly, they believe that traffic should be slowed down.
“They also recommended wider sidewalks and bike lanes. It is also disappointing to hear that the state was not aware that we have these challenges. As far as I know, it has been communicated more than once. So that is really disappointing to hear, but I am hoping we do not wait any more. I feel like our downtown businesses have waited so long for this project to come up and I have not heard any conversation or discussion about street design elements. So, I just ask that we consider them at this time rather than waiting the eight to 10, 20 years is what I am hearing. That is really unfortunate,” Beebe said.
“Just because of the constrained dollars we have with so many miles of roadway we have to fix, I can give you some rough numbers,” Koenig said, explaining that they have about 2,700 miles of roads similar to Hwy. 10 in their region that they are responsible for maintaining. “Prior to the last budget being passed, we had enough funds to replace about 1,200 miles over a 20-year period. So, that means that we can only get to about half of those.”
Koenig explained that this is why they are putting down minimal treatments in lots of those places.
“We have a lot of really smart people in this room, and I just think we can all put our heads together to find a solution that will solve some of our problems, so we don’t have to wait. You guys have been asking for a long time. I am trying to fight for you guys too, and I am asking for you guys to fight for our downtown, too,” Beebe expressed.
“It all boils down to the dollar,” DeWolfe responded.
“I know there are other communities that are redesigning their downtowns, and our business community deserves the same quality downtown,” Beebe stated.
“Can I ask a question?” Village Board Member Becky Beissel added. “I am getting conflicting messages. Because we are talking about the state not having any money, but yet I am also hearing that the village pays for the parking lanes, the curb and gutter and sidewalk. So?”
“We would have to borrow that money, because we don’t have that money,” Steele replied.
“Right, but when we’re talking about sidewalks, curb, gutter, parking lanes, but then somebody says the state isn’t giving us any money, they are not paying for that,” Beissel responded. “So, it’s not the state not having dollars, it’s us, the village, that would have to go find that money?”
“We would have to go borrow it,” Steele replied.
It was confirmed that the elevation of the curb is not going to change.
“Can I ask a question, if the state was the one that chewed it down back in 1992, it was right outside our window at Bank Mutual and I watched the whole thing, why isn’t the State the one responsible for bringing the sidewalks back to their level?”
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Raynee Farrell asked. “They should have been, what is the issue?”
“Money,” Steele said.
“But back then, it was wrong then. It was wrong from the getgo,” Farrell lamented. “To me, it was bad from the get-go. To me, if the State chewed it all down to that level, because they did, they dug ten feet down, then why were they not responsible for bringing it up to the level it was previously at?”
“We argued with them,” DeWolfe replied. “We said, ‘That north side is too low. It’s sloping up.’ We might as well have been talking to that wall when we talked to them.”
“Thank you for allowing me to talk. I am here first of all as a mom, I have four young kids,” said Ellsworth resident Katie Feuerhelm. “I am here as the Vice President of the Board of Education for the Ellsworth School District and I am here as a community member. For a number of years, I worked at UW-Extension. I was a Family Living Educator there, and during that time, with DOT, we did a bike walk audit. The police were involved, and we pretty much just went down and pointed out everything that needed to be fixed. We had a cross walk that just went into a curb, sidewalks that just ended, all of the things that were barriers to getting around,” she expressed, before saying that in the Design Ellsworth project, the first thing that area students came up with were addressing the streets and sidewalks.
“That is the youth of our community, and that is the first thing they came up with. They are the people we want to stay here and work here and continue to build our community to grow and thrive,” Feuerhelm stated, imploring the committee to think about equity and inclusion for all residents. Paul Baer shared.
“Paul Bauer with the Creamery, I would challenge the state to use our slope to address our issues in the community. If you are saying that you need to redo the approaches on our sidewalks, there is nothing I am aware of that is saying you could not go out into the road to make the approaches different and provide bump-outs and greenery space that work well with snow plows,” Bauer stated. “There is nothing saying you can’t use those four corners as an advantage to change the slope and make it accessible for people to change, and to complete with the Design Ellsworth. So, it would not necessarily be a complete redesign, but if we look at our corners strategically and how we can develop those in a better format, a good design is worth a lot.” After Bauer Megan Quinn spoke.
“My name is Megan Quinn, I am a business owner here in town, and I own a fair amount of property on Hwy. 10 here on Main St. I have been there for 31 years, so I have seen a lot of traffic go by, we have been in the same location.
“I think that one thing as I sit here and listen, I cannot thank the people enough that are advocating for business owners, right? I have spent a lot of money downtown and I am looking at spending an enormous amount of money here in the next four months with another building,” Quinn stated. “I am so frustrated, Mike, when I hear that the Village does not have money and that we would have to borrow it to do it. This is the issue Ellsworth has had for 50 years, 60 years. Granted, we would have to borrow it. We have to spend money to make money. I get that the village does not have money. But, if we value our business owners and we value people staying in town to grow Ellsworth, it’s something we have to spend money and time looking at. Bumpouts would be a fabulous idea. Green space is necessary. We have to do what we can to improve downtown, so we do get the businesses coming in. It just can’t continue to go on the way that it has.”
“We also have to watch out for real estate taxes downtown,” Steele said. “That’s my side of it.”
The committee continued to discuss the different options for bump-outs at some of the downtown intersections, and a motion was made to continue looking at their options before the plans are all finalized.