Division/Church Corridor Study: City outlines federal restrictions on redesign

The Stevens Point Board of Public Works meeting on Monday provided an overview of the current status of the Division/Church Corridor Study project. This included important news that project staff learned over the past couple of days.

Mayor Andrew Halverson and Public Works Director Scott Schatschneider led the discussion of this status report. Comments and questions were limited to board members and alderpersons.

The agenda packet for this meeting published last Wednesday suggested a more formal presentation would be made. Halverson and Schatschneider said that they had planned a presentation that would illustrate what would be involved in simply rebuilding the corridor with the same configuration as presently exists. Such an option would necessitate rejecting any federally-sourced funding in an attempt to eliminate certain requirements, such as the striping of bike lanes.

On Thursday and Friday, city staff had communication with liaisons from the Wisconsin Dept of Transportation to get guidance on such an approach. WisDOT administers the federally-sourced funding for these sorts of local projects. As part of this communication, city staff learned that the most recent federal transportation bill would prevent the city from choosing to rebuild the corridor in its current configuration.

MAP-21, the name commonly used to reference the current federal transportation bill, went into effect on October 1, 2012. One feature of this bill is to expand the set of streets that are part of the National Highway System (NHS) to include all principal arterial streets. This expansion added many streets that are not federal highways but are locally managed streets.

A redesign of any street that is part of the NHS must adhere to all Federal Highway Administration standards. This is true not only for streets managed by the US Dept of Transportation, but also for local streets which are newly part of the NHS but are managed by the municipalities they pass through.

In other words, MAP-21 imposed FHWA design requirements for a large number of principal arterials throughout the US that are actually city streets and not federal highways.

The Division/Church corridor is apparently one of these principal arterials added to the NHS by MAP-21. Even though jurisdiction of this corridor was transferred to the City of Stevens Point several years ago, any redesign must now adhere to FHWA standards because of MAP-21. The city may not rebuild the street to any other set of standards of its choosing. In particular, the city may not rebuild it to match the present configuration, which does not meet current FHWA standards.

The FHWA standards include Complete Streets requirements. This means that any redesign must include accommodations for bicycle and foot traffic.

These learnings, which came after publication of the meeting agenda, made the originally planned presentation for last night’s Public Works meeting obsolete. Since reconstructing the corridor and restriping with its current configuration is not allowed, Halverson and Schatschneider saw no point in presenting the case for how to do this.

The discussion last night did not provide clarity on how the process for redesigning the Division/Church corridor would move forward. Several speakers wanted a WisDOT representative to make a presentation at a future city meeting to more fully describe the requirements imposed on the redesign of the Division/Church corridor by MAP-21. Halverson and Schatschneider indicated that in their communications last week, WisDOT was willing to send a representative to Stevens Point for this purpose. It seems that this sort of presentation is likely to be the next step in the process.

Last night’s meeting also revealed funding news about this project that was learned by project staff yesterday. A federal grant was awarded to the city to fund 80% of the first phase of the project, which would include the portion from the south city limits to Heffron St. It is common for these sorts of projects to receive 80% funding from the federal government and require a 20% local match.

Money received by the city as part of the jurisdictional transfer from the state years ago can be used for this 20% local match. Halverson and Schatschneider stated that this amount is expected to be enough to also provide the 20% match for a second phase to the railroad underpass and possibly a third phase to Clark St.

This news means that when the process for identifying how to redesign the full corridor is complete, funding for the construction of the first phase of the project will be available.

For now, Poky Pedalers will have to wait for the city to announce any future news or meetings regarding this project. It seems that the sort of bicycle accommodations that are present in the most recent design alternatives will become part of any final design. However, the process for creating the preferred alternative is not complete. It remains important for Poky Pedalers to voice their opinions to project staff about their desire for quality bicycle accommodations on the Division/Church corridor.

As always, I will continue to provide updates on the PPSP project website under the Speak Your Poky menu.

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