Highway Department’s Justification for Road Widening Project Doesn't Make Sense

In an April 11th meeting, the Highway Department indicated that it was “sensitive” to the Rustic Road status of Highway K and tried to justify the Road Widening Project on the following bases:

  • The tree tunnels on Highway K creates excessive maintenance issues for the road because their shade they create does not allow the road to dry out as quickly and results in more freeze and thaw cycles, damaging the road service.

Our Response: The tree tunnels have not impacted the road maintenance schedule on County K. It has been roughly 25 years since Highway K has been resurfaced. The Highway Department indicated that other County Highways get repaved on approximately the same schedule. In addition, Highway Department personnel indicated that routine maintenance to fill potholes has been limited for several years due to budget constraints. As a result, there is no evidence that Highway K requires excessive maintenance because of the tree tunnels. In any event, eliminating the tree tunnels as part of the Road Widening Project does not comply with Wisconsin law. The Road Widening Project does not “preserve the rustic qualities of the road”, “retain the rustic charm of the road” or keep improvements to a minimum to avoid disturbing vegetation” as required. To the contrary, the Road Widening Project disregards and seeks to permanently and completely remove the rustic qualities of the road. The end result could mean that we lose our Rustic Road Designation and the tourism revenue it brings to our community,

  • A 3-foot-wide paved shoulder should be added to each side of the road for safety and maintenance reasons. The Highway Department staff indicated that cars leaving the paved road surface and turning back onto the road cause the road edge to crumble.

Our Response: In general, adding a three-foot-wide paved shoulder would enhance safety and could reduce road maintenance slightly, as suggested by the Highway Department. However, in our meeting, no safety data was presented to support this assertion. Moreover, there are a number of sections of the Rustic Road where trees are within three feet of the existing edge of the road. There are viable alternatives to cutting down these trees, such as reducing the speed limit or improving signage as the Rustic Roads Code suggests.

  • Adding a 10-foot-wide clear or tree-free zone beyond the 3-foot-wide paved shoulder would enhance safety and increase efficiency of roadside maintenance procedures.

Our Response: Adding a 10-foot-wide tree-free zone would theoretically increase safety and make shoulder mowing and maintenance easier. However, these benefits appear to be relatively minor. During the April 11th meeting, we asked the Highway Department representative who was the Chair of the Highway Safety Commission for Vilas County for data for the incidence of accidents on Highway K. Wisconsin law requires the County Traffic Safety Commission to review traffic data on a quarterly basis and make written recommendations of corrective actions. He indicated that there were no corrective actions relating to safety on Highway K. The one accident he cited involved a vehicle that lost control, crossed over the centerline and had a head-on collision with a County snowplow. However, the addition of a paved shoulder or a tree-free zone would not have prevented this accident. I invite the Highway Department to provide data showing County K constitutes a safety hazard. In any event, there are other options that could improve safety while preserving the rustic character of County K, such as reducing the speed limit or improving signage.