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After going roundabout, highway project a go

Paul Snyder
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Construction work on Highway 67 in Kiel will continue through the summer, even though the project has little local support.

Whether that lack of support is rooted in an effort to save money or to stop the construction of roundabouts depends on who is talking.

“It really isn’t a necessary project,” said Alderman Thomas Keller. “The opposition was unbelievable. Why fix something that works?”

He said residents do not support roundabouts.

Kiel Mayor Bob Werdeo said the city’s effort to redirect the money was about setting a positive example, not fighting roundabouts.

“We’re not opposed to the project at all,” he said. “I guess I just feel if there were 10 communities doing this, we could have helped out with the budget situation.”

The city’s opposition to the improvements on the 1-mile stretch of road culminated in petitioning Gov. Jim Doyle to halt the project and use the money on a more pressing road project. When that failed, Kiel leaders convinced state Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, to introduce an amendment last week during the Senate’s state budget debate to redirect the money.

“The city’s feeling and my effort on it centered on the fact that it’s hard to justify spending $2 million at this time,” Leibham said. “Why not put it toward another safety project or something that better improves our transportation network?”

But Leibham earned a collective groan from the state Senate last week when he mentioned the project included construction of two roundabouts, and lawmakers tabled the amendment on an 18-15 vote, effectively defeating the city’s attempt to stop the project.

Many Wisconsin communities, including Prairie du Chien and Green Bay, recently have engaged in battles with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation over proposed roundabouts.

“Then when the cost came in between $1 (million) and $2 million, it really blew up,” Keller said. “People were asking us, ‘Can’t you do something to stop it?’ So we looked for ways to postpone or eliminate it.”

Werdeo said WisDOT informed the city that too much preliminary work had been put into the project to suspend it. A letter (PDF) in March from WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi to City Council President John Brocker said Highway 67 improvements are needed, and the department’s timeline is the most cost-effective solution. However, the letter focuses more on touting the benefit of roundabouts than it does on bolstering the need for the project.

Despite the city’s petition, Werdeo and Keller said they were not surprised by the state’s decision to move the project forward as planned.

But Leibham said he was surprised and said moving ahead on the project is fiscally irresponsible.

“It’s an easy opportunity to save $2 million,” he said. “It was also an opportunity to demonstrate we could spend valuable and scarce transportation dollars on the highest priority projects.”

Leibham said there are several road and bridge projects that need attention, and, as the state climbs out of a $6.6 billion deficit, its limited resources need to be managed wisely.

Although spending seven figures on an unnecessary project is foolish, Keller said, the city’s chances for derailing the job were limited.

“We tried to make it an economic issue, because we thought that might be the best way to sell it,” he said.

“But I don’t see how we could’ve stopped it.”

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