DARLINGTON – Governor Scott Walker signed Senate Bill 392 and creating Act 87 on Thursday, Nov. 30, which allows municipalities to create local laws overriding state prohibition of ATV and UTV riders on state highways, providing an opportunity for Darlington to open access to half a mile of Galena Street.
The bill was authored by Wisconsin Senator Howard Marklein. It was joined on the Assembly side with a measure written by 51st District Representative Todd Novak. According to a press release from the office of the governor, the Assembly Bill 485 received support on a voice vote.
Darlington Police Chief Jason King advocated for the change. Initially, he said Darlington Council members asked him to contact the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in the winter of 2016 because permission could be granted as a waiver, but after months of no contact, it was denied.
Instead, King approached local representatives Novak and Marklein about the problem posed to roughly two dozen residents. King spoke at the Capitol on Oct. 24. He spoke for those in Darlington who had to load vehicles onto a trailer to cross the bridge on Galena Street, specifically citing a family with a UTV who had to put their UTV onto the back of a truck simply to cross the bridge to Main Street.
“These people have been wanting the same privilege everyone else has,” King said. “We didn’t take this decision lightly. Our entire community is an ATV route except (Wis.) 23 and 81.”
That’s because state law mandates that no such recreational vehicles be allowed to drive on highways. With this bill, that can be surpassed by local ordinance as long as the highway runs through a municipality and the posted speed limit is no more than 35 mph.
The law would have to be passed by the six-person council before riders would be allowed to utilize any portion of the town’s highway.
Alderman Dave Gough was clear on whether he supported an ordinance to allow use of those streets.
“Absolutely not,” Gough said. “It’s a very busy street, it’s narrow, there’s parking on both sides; I think it’s a safety issue.”
Council member Don Osterday feels differently, and expressed certainty that an ordinance could be passed to accommodate those residents.
“We have people on that side of the road who have virtually no way to get to the trail like others in the city do,” Osterday said. “We’ve still got some work to do to get the wording together and get everyone on board, but I think the council will support it.”
King said the city has no misconceptions about the feelings of some people within the city. He noted that when the city made all roads open to ATV and UTV riders, there were a number of people on both sides of the debate. However, he said with work and consideration, the city was able to finalize a compromise that served everyone well in his opinion.
Noise should be minimal because of the small number of people who would be provided access to the roadway, he said, noting that it could be a boon to local tourism because a hotel and part of the southside district would be easily accessible. King added that he could “count on one hand” the complaints DPD receives regarding ATV operators each year.
“There has not been a single injury crash on our ATV trails in the last two decades,” he said.
Council member Steve Pickett said there isn’t necessarily a rush to create the ordinance since the season for ATV and UTV use will basically be on hold until spring. Until then, he said the council could work on effective legislation.
“I want to make sure everybody has everything worked out,” Pickett said, noting work would likely be done with the city streets department and police. “We’ve got time to do it and I think we should try to do it correctly. The law is there and we can do it now. We should do it right.”