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Madison project stuck in traffic (UPDATE)

A rendering of Livesey Co.'s mixed development plans at Maple Grove Drive and McKee Road in Madison.

A rendering of Livesey Co.'s proposal for a mixed development at Maple Grove Drive and McKee Road in Madison.

By Paul Snyder

A traffic count by Middleton-based Livesey Co. will determine if the developer’s nine-building Madison project wins over city planners and engineers.

For the second time in as many years, Livesey is requesting city approval for a multibuilding, mixed development at Maple Grove Drive and McKee Road. The developer, citing the poor economy, withdrew a project proposal last year for 11 buildings.

But traffic counts are high on Maple Grove and McKee, leaving some city leaders nervous about the project’s effect on congestion and safety.

“The city’s been having an internal battle about traffic in that area,” said Alderman Steve King. “I don’t think there’s a firm agreement in place yet of how it should be handled.”

According to Livesey’s project documents, average daily traffic counts on McKee as of 2006 were 9,400 vehicles west of the Maple Grove intersection and 19,550 to the east. On Maple Grove, the count averaged 16,550 south of McKee.

There is no established breaking point for either road, said David Dryer, the city’s traffic engineer and parking manager. But both roads, he said, are nearing their capacity.

“We don’t have a trigger number where we then say, ‘Thou shalt not proceed with this project,’” he said. “But we’re going to be looking for a range, and, depending on what the study says, then we’ll make our recommendation to the Plan Commission.”

Alex Weis, Livesey’s vice president, did not return repeated calls for comment before deadline Tuesday.

The project is scheduled to be reviewed Wednesday by the Urban Design Commission.

Livesey’s proposal calls for four retail buildings, a restaurant, three apartment buildings and an 80-unit senior living center.

The city’s comprehensive plan requires a mixed-use development at the corner, said Brad Murphy, Madison’s planning division director.

The issue with the site, he said, always has been timing.

Livesey acquired much of the site in 2005 and pursued plans for mixed use, but Weis last year said the development of a SuperTarget in Fitchburg less than a mile east on McKee drained much of the original proposal’s retail viability.

The SuperTarget also increased traffic on McKee, Murphy said. With Fitchburg considering more commercial development around the SuperTarget, those numbers likely will increase.

“There’s really nothing the city can do to hasten the pace of the Livesey project,” Murphy said. “If these other projects proceed first, it might mean the amount of retail ends up being somewhat less.”

That could be a problem for the neighborhood, which is predominantly residential, King said.

“I’m a lot more concerned about the commercial space,” he said. “It’s kind of at the mercy of poor city planning in the past. I don’t think that corner was ever designed as a major traffic outlet.”

But if it becomes one, Dryer said, the city will have to weigh whether the project is worth the congestion.

“We’ll review their traffic count for accuracy, and if we see any problems or errors, we’ll point those out to the Plan Commission,” he said. “But we still have to see to what extent this project will impact traffic.”

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