Aggressive building plans, including those of GE Healthcare, are forcing area engineers and planners to look at how to handle traffic around Watertown Plank Road.
The big question is how to split the bill to widen, reroute or build new local roads.
Last year, GE Healthcare announced plans to build an $87 million office and research complex in the Milwaukee County Research Park, Wauwatosa. Watertown Plank Road connects the research park to Highway 45, and traffic has already exceeded the road’s capacity. The GE building will double the amount of workers going into and out of the park, from 2,000 today to 4,000 when it opens in January.
“GE might’ve been the impetus to start it,” said Art Baumann, traffic operations engineer in Wisconsin Department of Transportation District 2 office, Waukesha, who said GE approached WisDOT about the matter.
So Wauwatosa Director of Public Works Bill Kappell took the lead in assembling a team to oversee planning to increase the area’s traffic capacity. The area under consideration is bordered by Highway 100 east to 86th Street and Wisconsin Avenue north to North Avenue.
The team includes engineers and planners from the Department of Transportation and the cities of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.
Milwaukee County, which owns the Research Park and is selling for redevelopment its 42 acres on the other side of Highway 45, is also involved, as is Mayfair Mall; the Wisconsin Lutheran College, which recently built a new stadium on land it purchased from the county; and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, which broke ground last month on a new Medical College and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Research Center.
Also included are County Supervisors Lynne DeBruin and Jim Schmitt, Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy, Wauwatosa City Administrator Tom Wontorek and Deshal Young, representing Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s office.
The state footed the bill to have EarthTech tally all the new development those players have planned between now and 2015 and report on the impact each would have on traffic. It recently released a draft report to the group.
The engineers and planners in the group, acting as a sort of subcommittee, will review the report and, once it is approved, decide how to proceed with more in-depth engineering work, Kappell said.
“Once we agree on this draft, we’ll get that out to the larger group, and that’s when we’ll have to start talking about money,” he said.
George Torres, Milwaukee County director of transportation, said the county would chip in planning funds, and Baumann said the state would contribute $75,000.
So far, the only project that is definite is Wauwatosa’s plan to put streetlights at Watertown Plank and Innovation Drive, the research park’s main thoroughfare.
Once the projects are slated for construction, the elected officials on the team will figure out who will pay for what. Most of the roads under consideration, including Watertown Plank, are local roads Wauwatosa is responsible for. But traffic from those roads is already spilling over and causing congestion on the state-run Highway 100 and Bluemound Road.
Milwaukee has jurisdiction over Wisconsin Avenue east of 96th Street, and traffic from the GE project would be using that stretch of road, said Department of Public Works spokeswoman Cecilia Gilbert. The city plans to repave and may widen Wisconsin Avenue.
Torres said the Medical Center has proposed extending a freeway spur from Highway 45 and into the middle of its campus.
Kappell said the funding questions are for the elected officials in the planning team.
Baumann said this was because the funding would be divided according to who was causing the traffic. At this point, he said, the county seems to be responsible for much of the increasing traffic because of the Milwaukee County Research Park and new developments on its 42 developable acres in the Milwaukee County Grounds east of Highway 45. He said Wauwatosa would take responsibility for new traffic caused by the Medical Center.
“It’s going to depend on determination of responsibility,” Baumann said.
Torres said the question of funding and the county’s role in it was still in the air. He said a potential funding source was the state’s congestion, mitigation and air-quality local road grant program.
“That’s one of those things where we’re going to have to see how all that shakes out,” he said.
Torres said the stakeholders were trying to work out a time to meet next week to review the draft EarthTech report.
Sean Ryan can be reached at 414-276-0273, Ext. 107, or by email.