Construction bids are due May 11 for an Interstate 43 interchange project likely to be tied up in an eminent domain lawsuit until at least fall.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is collecting bids for an estimated $1.5 million project to build the interchange in Mosel. The interchange, which has a July 24 completion date under the contract, would relieve traffic congestion during a PGA Championship golf tournament Aug. 9-15 at Whistling Straits golf course in Kohler.
“We’re interested in providing safety for I-43 is the bottom line for the Department of Transportation,” said Michael Berg, WisDOT northeast region director.
But WisDOT used eminent domain to acquire property for the project, and two families want their land back.
Andrew and Michelle Van Stelle and Robert and Dorothy Schnell on April 19 took their lawsuit over the property to a state court of appeals.
The Mosel property owners originally sued WisDOT in October in Sheboygan County Circuit Court, but a judge dismissed the case in March.
The appeal does not block WisDOT from building the interchange, said Alan Marcuvitz, an attorney with Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Milwaukee, representing the Van Stelles. But if the property owners win the lawsuit, he said, they can force WisDOT to remove the interchange from their land.
“That’s the plan,” Marcuvitz said, “tear it out and return it to the way it was before.”
WisDOT technically owns 4.36 acres of the Van Stelles’ property on the east side of I-43 and 3.87 acres of the Schnells’ property on the west side of the interstate. WisDOT paid $10,000 per acre.
Berg said WisDOT officials have not decided if they will proceed with the interchange project. In addition to the lawsuit, the Schnell property adjacent to the highway is protected by the Wisconsin and U.S. departments of agriculture.
WisDOT would need approval from both agencies before building there, Berg said.
“It is what it is,” he said of the pending lawsuit and need for state and federal approval. “I can’t say anything else.”
The timing of the appeal has nothing to do with WisDOT collecting bids for the contract, Marcuvitz said.
“I would guess that we’re a good six months away from any decision being made by the court of appeals,” he said.
Berg said rather than building a full interchange, WisDOT could build an on ramp on one side of the highway that would not disturb the land involved in the lawsuit.
“We have documents, contracting documents, that would cover either one or the other,” he said of the full or half interchanges. “We’re trying to do the right thing here.”
According to the property owners’ lawsuit, the project does not benefit the public because the interchange only would serve the golf tournament.
But Berg said the interchange would protect the public by reducing congestion and safety risks during the tournament. He said WisDOT, in conjunction with local law enforcement, can maintain safety on the highway during the tournament without the interchange, but the project would make the area safer for drivers.
“We wouldn’t be doing our job,” Berg said, “if we didn’t try to provide the best environment.”