Mequon — Mequon officials are on the brink of signing an agreement to pay $1.7 million for a Highland Road interchange.
The state's Department of Transportation has identified Highland Road as a possible interchange in its plans for an Interstate 43 expansion, which would happen in five to 10 years. The interchange would meet the growing traffic demands in the area, as well as reroute Concordia University commuters away from the residential neighborhood along Lake Shore Drive.
The DOT originally told the city it would be required to pay a $7 million contribution to the $18 million interchange, but recently the city's share was reduced to $3.5 million. Half of the $3.5 million local share will be paid by Ozaukee County, and the other half will be paid by the city. The city plans to receive additional financial support from Concordia University, Columbia St. Mary's and other organizations that would benefit from the interchange.
The state-municipal agreement for a Highland Road interchange was unanimously approved during a committee-of-the-whole meeting Tuesday night. The agreement will go before the City Council on May 13, with additional language from Mayor Dan Abendroth that seeks to preserve the character of Highland Road by maintaining a two-lane road, not allowing through-truck traffic, retaining bike lanes and pursuing traffic calming features.
Alderwoman Connie Pukaite said the Highland Road interchange has been on the table for 30 years, but at the time, the traffic flows didn't justify an interchange. She said the city should make the most out of this opportunity and seek opportunities to be involved in its design.
"You only get a chance at this kind of thing once every 25 to 30 years. …What we've got can't last us another 30 to 50 years," she said. "Now is the time to deal with this thoroughly. We need to make very clear in our communications with the state that we want to be in on designing the details of this."
Port Road work put off
Without an interchange at Highland Road, the DOT would have required major modifications to the intersection of Mequon and Port Washington Roads, including two or three turn lanes in each direction.
When the city approached the county for funding, it made the case that the cost of adding an interchange at Highland Road would be less expensive than making Port Washington Road a four-lane road from Glen Oaks to Pioneer Road.
When the county agreed to funding Highland Road, the city agreed to not ask the county for money to expand that portion of Port Washington Road for at least another 10 years.
The state-municipal agreement also says that Mequon has authority over local land use and zoning around the area of the Highland Road interchange as well as Port Washington Road north to Pioneer Road.
As part of its agreement with Ozaukee County, the city agreed to work with county officials to include a park-and-ride lot within a half mile of either the Highland Road or Mequon Road interchanges.
County Line interchange
The committee also discussed the DOT's plan to create a full interchange at County Line Road. At the city's request, the DOT unsuccessfully appealed to the Federal Highway Administration to maintain a partial interchange at County Line Road, based on concerns about the impact a full interchange would have on local traffic patterns, noise and residential neighborhoods.
Although the feds are requiring a full interchange at County Line Road, the DOT has indicated that it could construct a partial interchange in 2020, with additional ramp construction postponed until traffic studies demand a full build-out.
The committee agreed that an interchange without grade separation would be the least intrusive to local neighborhoods.
Pukaite suggested the city communicate to the DOT that a partial interchange is their preferred option, but due to the FHA decision, the city would recommend a split diamond interchange with grade separation be phased in based on traffic count.
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