A rural Fennimore woman’s Facebook video went viral late last week, prompting a Friday-morning, Jan. 6 meeting on a local rural roadway.
Wisconsin Public Safety Incidents and Alerts posted at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 5 a video filmed by Mary Fecht. That post was viewed more than 77,000 times in the 24 hours that followed.
“We are in the Town of Marion and we border Mount Ida Township. This is Smokey Hollow Road and the bus comes down this every day, and the bus is scared to come down it because this is what our road looks like about 30 feet from the bridge,” Fecht says in the video. “If you can see, that is nothing but a glare of ice. The only reason I am walking on it is I have got cleats on. And, as you can see, it is a sharp turn and on top of it. Neither Township will take responsibility for the bridge. It is a safety hazard.”
Fecht later shows guardrails on both sides of the bridge are badly damaged.
Fennimore Community Schools District Administrator Jamie Nutter said Jan. 6, however, Smokey Hollow Road is one the school district’s bus drivers will avoid in the winter if necessary.
“My first year, Bill [Richter] took me around the district and showed me different places our district covers,” Nutter said. “He told me in the winter, this is one of the places we don’t go if it is bad. We make arrangements with people that live on that road.”
Richter, the school district’s transportation supervisor for the past 23 years, on Jan. 6 explained the school district’s procedure.
“Either parents will bring their children down to the end of the road, or if the roads are real bad I have a four-wheel-drive truck and go pick the kids up,” he said.
Richter said Smokey Hollow Road has long been a difficult route for school district buses, citing “a lot of issues there.”
“That road slants the wrong way a couple a places. The bridge itself is right on that hairpin curve,” he said. The bus just barely clears it. That road has never been improved in 23 years.
“Prior to that, Paul Rector was transportation supervisor before me. In 50 years, nothing has been done on the road. It is rustic, just like it was built back in the horse and wagon days. Two vehicles do not meet on that road.”
Grant County Highway Commissioner Dave Lambert learned of the video thanks to a phone call from 49th Assembly District Rep. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City) late last Thursday night.
“[Tranel] set up a meeting for the following morning, that was attended by officials from Grant County, the Town of Mount Ida, the Town of Marion, as well as Travis,” Lambert said. “By the time of the 9:30 a.m. meeting on last Friday, the road had been salted and sanded and was in good winter driving condition, although it was still narrow and poorly aligned.
“The two Towns discussed the maintenance and future replacement of the structure, including an improved road alignment. Funding is the challenge. Smokey Hollow Road serves very few landowners and the Towns need to balance their limited funding with the many needs to their road system.”
Normal traffic on Smokey Hollow Road is approximately 25 vehicles per day, Lambert shared. Following news coverage of the situation Friday, traffic on the roadway boomed. So much so, the Town of Marion and Town of Mount Ida chose to close Smokey Hollow Road to through traffic.
“I was told that they experienced hundreds of vehicles per day and that most drivers were not from the area,” he said. “They felt Smokey Hollow Road was unsafe for this amount of traffic, with drivers that were unfamiliar with the road.”
In the meantime, the school district will provide alternate transportation for students that live on Smokey Hollow Road.
“We will provide pick up for students on the road with a school-owned passenger vehicle, as it would be tricky to turn around [in a bus],” Nutter said. “We currently provide some transportation utilizing this method for other circumstances, so this stop will be added to the passenger vehicle route.”
Fecht indicated in her video concerns regarding the roadway had gone unanswered.
“So, we have tried to have something done with this and nobody will listen, so I am going to keep posting it until everybody sees it and realizes that our townships are putting our kids in danger,” she says. “So, please share this. Thank you.”
Lambert begged to differ.
“Of the eight officials that attended the meeting at the bridge on the morning after the posting, only one had been contacted,” he said. “He found a message on his phone after he returned home from work, so it was late when he was notified.
“No one else had been contacted by the person listing the posting on Facebook. The fact that they all met the following morning shows that they do care.”