The start of a long-delayed expansion of Highway 23 between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan counties could be in reach after the Wisconsin Department of Transportation issued a crucial environmental report on Monday.
WisDOT completed its Limited Scope Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision on Monday, marking a move from the design phase of the project to the construction phase. WisDOT favors a $132.6 million plan to turn the two-lane highway into a four-lane expressway.
The project has been tied up for years in federal court, after a judge sided with the Madison-based environmental group 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin and ordered WisDOT in 2015 to draw up a supplemental environmental-impact study for the project.
Residents and commuters, meanwhile, have complained that the two-lane highway is dangerous. Between 2012 and 2016, there were 42 crashes with injuries and six deaths on the highway. A stretch of the roadway between County K and Seven Hills Road in Fond du Lac saw three fatal crashed in that period, giving it a rate that was higher than the state average, according to WisDOT data.
State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, praised the project’s progress in a statement on Thursday, but cautioned that opponents are still in the midst of a 150-day window to mount a legal challenge to the environmental report.
“This is hopefully the end of a legal process that has taken far too long, and negatively impacted the lives and health of constituents within and far beyond the 52nd District,” Thiesfeldt said. “I respectfully request and encourage that the 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin refrain from any further legal action that would interfere with the construction of this vital project.”
Ashwat Narayanan, director of transportation policy for the group, said he had not had a chance by Monday afternoon to review WisDOT’s report. The group criticized a draft version of WisDOT’s report released in May, and pushed back against claims that the highway is more dangerous than other roadways in Wisconsin. The group cited WisDOT data from 2017 showing that traffic counts had decreased along the highway .
“While the highway may be perceived as unsafe by drivers or elected officials, the data does not show that this is true,” the group wrote in a statement in May. “No evidence is presented to show that increasing the number of lanes will reduce the number of fatal and incapacitating injury crashes. With a significant number of roadway departure crashes occurring during periods of snow and ice, increasing the number of lanes may exacerbate these.”Follow @natebeck9