At their monthly Public Works & Parks Committee meeting on Tuesday, the Village of Whiting held a public hearing on “the Hwy HH/McDill Ave resurfacing project with revised striping based on the Portage County Countywide Bike/Pedestrian Plan recommendation, creating bicycle lanes and a center two-way-left-turn-lane (TWLTL) for driveway and cross street access.”
Whiting first discussed this topic during their April Public Works & Parks Committee meeting as part of a conversation on adopting the bike/ped plan for the village. Further discussion on the road diet took place at the May Village Board meeting, during which the board voted to postpone a vote on adopting the bike/ped plan.
Approximately 50 people attended Tuesday’s public hearing. The village received over an hour of feedback regarding the implementation of a road diet on the portion of McDill Ave that passes through Whiting and on related issues.
The public hearing started with Portage County Highway Commissioner Nathan Check giving a high-level overview of relevant issues related to the resurfacing project on McDill and the striping that will be implemented at the conclusion of that project. Notable statements made by Commissioner Check include the following:
- Commissioner Check confirmed that Portage County has jurisdiction over McDill Ave, since it is part of Cty Hwy HH.
- Before Portage County can move forward with a road diet reconfiguration, the county would need to perform a traffic study that would consider information such as future traffic projections, future land use changes, level of service (i.e., quality of traffic flow), turning movements, crash history, and bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.
- The cost of this study is expected to be the primary cost of any reconfiguration project. The county is obtaining quotes on how much such a traffic study would cost, so no estimate is yet available.
- If the county decides to perform a traffic study, it is unlikely that it would be completed in time to affect the current resurfacing project. Thus, the plan is for the existing four-lane configuration to be again striped upon the fresh roadway surface at the conclusion of this project.
- If the county eventually decides to reconfigure McDill, there is little that would prevent the county from restriping McDill with a different configuration at a future time. Any restriping could be a stand-alone project, or it could be implemented more cost-effectively as part of a future chip-sealing project on the roadway.
- The Portage County Highway Committee would oversee any process involving a traffic study and any subsequent action. If this committee chooses to consider options for reconfiguring McDill, it is likely that there would be more opportunities for public input as part of that process.
- In response to a later question, Commissioner Check confirmed that the Portage County Board of Supervisors would not need to approve any decision made by the Highway Committee regarding a reconfiguration of McDill. However, if county funds need to be spent on such a project, such as for conducting a traffic study, then the Portage County Board would need to approve those expenses.
After Commissioner Check completed his comments, the floor was opened to public comment. Approximately 25 people took the opportunity to state their opinions on the configuration of McDill/HH. Themes that were repeated by audience members included the following:
- concerns about excess speeds on McDill,
- current anxiety over making left turns from McDill into cross streets or driveways due to impatient and inconsiderate traffic from behind, and how a center two-way-left-turn-lane would improve this issue,
- danger for children crossing at School St to access McDill Elementary School, including difficulty in hiring crossing guards at that location because of it being too hazardous,
- the unpopular decision from 25 years ago that changed McDill from a two-lane street into a four-lane street,
- the current construction zone on McDill with two lanes having frequent congestion, proving that the road diet would suffer the same fate,
- the current construction zone on McDill not having a two-way-left-turn-lane, meaning that any comparison between this current configuration and the configuration proposed in the road diet is not an apples-to-apples comparison,
- concerns that bike lanes on McDill after configuring with a road diet would be too dangerous for anyone to use.
Once all audience members had their chance to speak, a straw poll via a show of hands was taken regarding the road diet reconfiguration. The count found that 12 people voted in favor of implementing a road diet, and either 23 or 24 voted to reject the road diet.
Although approximately two-thirds of the participants at the public hearing were against the road diet, the chair of the Portage County Highway Committee, Al Haga, commented that he clearly heard the safety concerns expressed by both those for and those against the road diet and that his committee would take that into consideration in its future deliberations.
At that point, the public hearing was closed.
The Public Works & Parks Committee meeting then took up the issue of making recommendations to Portage County on a road diet for McDill/HH. A motion was made and seconded for the Village of Whiting to make no recommendation to Portage County regarding the configuration of McDill. After brief discussion, that motion carried via a voice vote. Final action on this item is expected to be taken up by the Whiting Board of Trustees at their next meeting, which should take place on Tuesday June 14 at 7 PM.
Later in the PW&P Committee meeting, there was an agenda item to consider traffic control signs for the School St and Green Circle Trail crossings of McDill/HH. During that discussion, Village President Paul Stroik mentioned a few options he had come across during his research into infrastructure for alerting motor vehicle traffic to the presence of people using crosswalks. One of the options he looked at was a Rapid Rectangular Flashing Beacon (RRFB).
The Portage County bike/ped plan lists RRFBs among its Pedestrian Facility Types on p. 33 and states that “RRFBs are lower cost than full signals or pedestrian hybrid beacons [HAWK signals] and have been shown to increase driver yielding behavior.” More information about RRFBs can be found on this webpage from the US DOT Federal Highway Administration website.
President Stroik stated that he heard the frequent concerns expressed during the public hearing about the difficulties in crossing McDill/HH and that the School St crossing should be a priority.
I had an opportunity to tell the committee that the City of Stevens Point is installing an RRFB at the crossing of Division St at Franklin St this summer. I suggested that someone from the Village of Whiting might contact Stevens Point Director of Public Works Scott Schatschneider to learn how the city decided that an RRFB was the best choice for that location. I also suggested to the committee that they approach the Board of Directors for the Green Circle Trail to see if they would be willing to contribute funds towards installing an RRFB or other crossing treatment at the Green Circle Trail crossing of McDill/HH. The committee seemed interested in pursuing both of these recommendations.
After further discussion, the committee decided to do more investigation into crossing treatments for McDill/HH at School St and the Green Circle Trail. This topic will come back for consideration at a future PW&P Committee meeting.
This concludes my summary of all the topics related to McDill/HH that were discussed at the Whiting PW&P Committee meeting Tuesday evening.
Aside from the expected agenda item for the June Village Board meeting regarding the PW&P Committee’s action to not make any recommendation to Portage County on a McDill/HH road diet, it is unclear what further items related to McDill/HH might be considered at upcoming village or county committee meetings. The Whiting Village Board postponed its decision on adopting the bike/ped plan for the village, so I would expect this topic to return, perhaps at their June meeting as well. As I learn of future deliberations on these topics, I will continue to post updates on the PPSP blog.