Project's intent to widen highway draws concerns

June 18, 2014

West Allis — With the prospect of losing homes, businesses and thousands of dollars of tax base still a possibility with the potential widening of Highway 100, local officials left last week's meeting on the project hopeful that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is open to such local concerns.

The DOT kicked off the start of years of planning for the reconstruction of Highway 100 by meeting with local officials from Greenfield to Milwaukee. The project will extend from Layton Avenue in Greenfield north to Silver Spring Drive in Milwaukee.

In the section affecting West Allis, DOT planners tend to favor adding a fourth lane in each direction, plus a bicycle lane and replacing the sidewalks.

"I'm a little apprehensive," said Rosalie Reinke, whose 5th Aldermanic District includes nearly the entire stretch through West Allis. Some businesses such as Allied Pools, 1800 S. 108th St., are right next to the sidewalk, she said.

"How could they widen?" she asked.

Several feet would be available from the boulevard, she said, but no one knows at this point if that would be enough, especially if bike lanes are added.

Local officials raised concerns about whether bicyclists would even want to ride on Highway 100, because of the heavy and fast traffic.

"If I had a bike, I wouldn't want to be in that bike lane," Reinke said. But DOT engineers seemed to think bikes would have no problem on Highway 100, she said.

"My heart goes out to all the businesses," Reinke said. But at least if they do have to move, the DOT would help with relocation expenses, she said.

She also was concerned that homes along the stretch might lose large portions of their front yards to a widening project, but she doubted that any homes would be lost.

But if the road is widened, Reinke predicted, "The tax base will definitely be affected."

Greenfield City Engineer Jeff Katz also was at the kickoff meeting and he said Greenfield would likely not lose any buildings even if the road is widened.

"In that stretch, buildings are set back quite a bit," Katz said. And nearly all are businesses that would benefit from a Highway 100 that works better than the current road, he said.

The only major concern affecting Greenfield was how bicyclists and pedestrians on the Oak Leaf bike trail could safely cross an eight-lane Highway 100, Katz said. Currently, they can cross three lanes and then pause at the boulevard until traffic clears on the other side, he said.

To help, the DOT mentioned three options last week — adding a flashing light at the crossing or building a bike/pedestrian bridge over or under the road, he said.

Katz also said the DOT engineers seemed to consider leaving Highway 100 as a six-lane road as a viable option.

The main reason for the reconstruction is the age of the road and projections that traffic will increase, local officials said.

Kevin Haas, who also represents the 5th Aldermanic District in West Allis, said, "We definitely have congestion on Highway 100, there's no doubt about that."

Something needs to happen with the road both because of congestion and because of its age, he said. Residents need a better road to get to and from work and businesses need it for their patrons, he said.

Nothing is even close to being for sure, he said, but DOT engineers seemed willing to listen to concerns, which wasn't the case several years ago.

In that regard, Greenfield's Katz was glad to hear that the DOT would look into how it could help eliminate flooding problems at Wildcat Creek by taking measures on state right of way. Greenfield has done a lot of work already to address flooding there, he said and help from the DOT would be welcomed.

The DOT engineers actually brought up the subject so they have done their homework on local concerns, he said.

West Allis Mayor Dan Devine said, "We'll oppose anything that has a negative impact. But I did not sense they were committed to one plan."

A couple of years ago, the city received a potential widening plan that would have resulted in large losses for West Allis.

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