Environmental protection and traffic flow could emerge as conflicting priorities with a wetland in the way of a Waukesha bypass.
The state and Waukesha County are in the early stages of planning a bypass that would link Interstate 94 and Highway 59 on the west end of the city of Waukesha. A panel of local residents, business owners and elected officials, when asked by consultants to list their priorities for the project, put protecting the natural environment on par with traffic safety and speed of travel.
“They really need the highway to go in,” said David Bahl, plant manager at Weldall Mfg. Inc. and a member of the planning group. “But my first concern is doing it without destroying the wetlands.”
The project does not have a proposed route, but a conceptual plan from Waukesha County showed the highway passing through the Pebble Creek wetland at the southern end of the study area. Planning panel member Joe Banske said he refuses to sacrifice wetland protection for a road.
A bypass built near Pebble Creek could harm the town of Waukesha’s water quality and quantity, said Banske, a town resident and organizer for Bypass the Bypass and Save our Town.
“I’m going to stand very strongly on the absolute protection of the shallow aquifer and the ability for it to regenerate,” he said, “because it is the only one that supplies the town, because without it, the town is in great peril.
“That may sound dramatic, but without it, where does the town go for water?”
Bahl said the existing two-lane road the bypass would replace is too dangerous and traffic on it is too slow. He said it takes 15 minutes for Weldall’s trucks to drive between Highway 59 and I-94.
“My rough estimate is it would take half the amount of time to get from 94 to 59,” he said, “if you take the bypass as it is proposed now.”
Steve Schmuki, president of the Waukesha Environmental Action League Inc., said he is encouraged environmental protection emerged as a priority early on. Schmuki, whose organization is involved in the federal lawsuit that challenged the planning process for the Highway J project in Waukesha and Washington counties, said only time will tell if the environment remains a priority.
“I’m optimistic at this point that the process will actually take that into account to a significant degree,” Schmuki said, “unlike some of the processes that I’ve seen in the past.”
Waukesha County has dedicated $2 million to create an environmental impact statement for the project that will determine the bypass route and its negative effects on the surrounding environment. Consultant CH2M Hill Inc. will hold a public hearing May 18 to collect resident comments and will have a list of project alternatives by this fall.
The company will complete a draft of the environmental study by February.
Bahl said he does not know how the project can achieve the best of both worlds by building a new highway and not hurting the wetlands, but said it could be possible to build over or around the wetlands.
“I’m not a professional when it comes to that,” he said. “But I think you have to achieve this bypass without filling in an area that is now considered a preserve.”